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Songs for Singing’

Posted on 26 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Inspired by Minnehaha Creek, Okee Dokee Brothers releases latest album to spark hope during COVID-19 pandemic

“Keep that Hope Machine running strong,” urge The Okee Dokee Brothers in the first track on their latest album, “Songs for Singin,’” released during the Minnesota Stay at Home order.
The songs were born out of neighborhood sing-a-longs at Minnehaha Creek in Ericsson, down the street from where guitarist Joe Mailander has lived for three years.
The two-disc album has 27 singable songs and includes a songbook with lyrics and chords.
In their search for singable songs, the children’s music duo of Mailander and Justin Lansing learned it can be easier to write more complicated ones. They also learned these simple songs hide in little everyday moments.
Their goal with this album is to help people stay hopeful and connected.
The first track on the new album, “Hope Machine,” was released on April 7, a few weeks into the nationwide coronavirus quarantine. Inspired by a Woody Guthrie journal entry, people resonated with the hopeful song.
“It was a really powerful moment,” remarked Mailander.
Real music with real people
As their popularity has grown, the Okee Dokee Brothers has moved from small concerts to larger venues. Yet, Mailander believes that music doesn’t have to be played only by professionals at large arenas, so he started a neighborhood band, playing in back yards of neighbors and in local parks with friends.
“It was a way to make real music with real people,” explained Mailander.
Fans are familiar with Mailander and Lansing’s adventure-style albums. Their 2012 release, “Can You Canoe” was created during a paddle down the Mississippi River, and “Through the Woods” in 2014 was inspired by a trek along the Appalachian Trail. “Saddle Up” in 2016 followed a month-long horsebacking trip along the Continental Divide. “Winterland” in 2018 explores the wonders and beauty of winter they saw during a dogsledding excursion in northern Minnesota.
“Songs for Singin’” is a departure from that and focuses on simple songs people can sing together at home.
It’s a fitting message for these times.
And it is why the childhood friends decided to release their album several months earlier than planned.

Inspired by his own
neighborhood band
Childhood friends Mailander and Lansing grew up together in Denver, Colo. Mailander went to college at Saint John’s University in Minnesota while Lansing was in Chicago. For a time they both lived in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood. Then Lansing headed out to New York before returning to Denver. Yet, they’re still a 50/50 songwriting team. One starts a song and then sends it to the other. They go back and forth with edits and suggestions until the song is done.
“His songs are my songs and my songs are his songs,” said Mailander.
The green space along Minnehaha Creek drew the Mailander family to the Ericsson neighborhood. “After a long day at work, I need to go outside and refocus,” said Mailander.
He, his wife Alison and 3-year-old son Hap value the connections they’ve made in Ericsson since moving from the Northrop neighborhood.
He appreciates how his neighbors share tools and resources.
“We’ve been surprised by how well we’ve been connecting with families that value the same authentic relationships and music,” observed Mailander. “They take time out of their busy schedules to do simple things like stand around and catch up on each other’s happenings. We get together to process what’s going on.”

‘We can all be musicians’
It was a natural transition to come together to play music and sing.
“I’ve been really interested in community singing and the power of folk songs to bring people together,” said Mailander. “I’ve also been really interested in making music that isn’t professional and perfect. It’s casual music making.”
Kids have the expectation that only the Justin Biebers of the world who make a lot of money can be singers, Mailander observed. “We can all be musicians,” he said.
The neighbor kids. Their parents. His son. “The music we make can be really beautiful even if it isn’t rehearsed,” said Mailander.
“We’ve been doing it forever as a species. Don’t over complicate it.”
In some ways, singing has been taken away from many people, except for church songs. It used to be something the community gathered around. After World War II, there were competitions between neighborhood bands, Mailander pointed out.
When he tells people to join in, he often hears, “I can’t carry a tune. I can’t sing so well.”
“If we all show up with a positive attitude and do our best and no one judges another, we sound pretty good,” said Mailander.
Mailander hopes people in the neighborhood are inspired to start their own bands.
Their neighborhood band sings favorites, such as “You Are My Sunshine,” “Down by the River,” “Jamboree,” “Peace Like a River,” “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and “This Land is Your Land.”
“We don’t play long songs that no one knows the words to,” explained Mailander. “We make it easy and accessible.”
They invite all ages, the grandparents and the kids, and the folks without kids. He put out a little chair and ukulele for his toddler. The shakers and tambourines can get a little wild, but they roll with it.
Local musicians who drop in for the neighborhood band nights include folks from The High 48s and No Man String Band.

‘These are all times for singing’
Inspired by folk singers such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Mailander and Lansing explore the rhythms of everyday routines in their new album. Song titles point to those daily cycles: Afternoon Walk, Language of the Flowers, Let’s Throw a Party, Singin’ for Me Supper, and Hushabye. The Day disc has 15 songs and Night has 12.
As the duo point out in the first pages of their songbook, these songs build off “rhythmic steps on a morning stroll; syncopated raindrops in the afternoon; clanging in the kitchen; the rocking chair’s lullaby. These are all times for singing, and each song is a reminder to be present through the different seasons in a day.”

‘We’re all family’
The nationwide shutdown has affected the Okee Dokee Brothers too, as they earn 60% of their revenue through concerts, not to mention the merchandise sales. The shows also perpetuate interest in the band. If the closure of concert venues continues into the fall, “it’ll be pretty devastating,” admitted Mailander.
Those who are buying their physical album help keep them going. Locally, copies are available at Homespun (2709 E 38th St.) and Red Balloon (891 Grand Ave. in St. Paul). They’re also sold at their online merchandise store (
As they encourage in the songbook: “So sing to the sunrise and sing to the moon. Sing with your kids and sing with your neighbors. Sometimes it just takes singing a song with one another to remind us that we’re all family.”


Neighborhood Band
It’s okay if you don’t know the song
It’s okay just follow along
It’s okay if you get the words wrong in the Neighborhood Band.
It’s okay if we make a little noise
It’s okay if you wanna rejoice
It’s okay if you’ve got a bad voice in the Neighborhood Band

Little Pete plays his horn in the street
Old Man Stan plays his pots and his pans
Sally from the alley plays the big finale with the Neighborhood Band
It’s okay without a saxophone
It’s okay without a slide trombone
It’s okay without a microphone in the Neighborhood Band

So join the chorus, lend a hand
We’re not great, we’re not grand
Nothin’s proper and nothin’s planned
In the Neighborhood Band
It’s okay (wooo!), It’s okay (wooo!), It’s okay!

It’s okay if we never get found
It’s okay if we’re the worst in town
It’s okay if no one’s stickin’ around to watch the Neighborhood Band
It’s okay if we don’t agree
It’s okay in a different key
It’s okay as long as we
Can find some harmonyyyyyy

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Family bonds over games

Posted on 26 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Standish resident launches Kickstarter June 2 for Open Ocean, a game his kids and their neighborhood friends tested and approved


The Bodkin family at play. (Photo submitted)

Standish resident Joel Bodkin has loved fish since he was three and won a goldfish at the state fair.
That combined with a love of making things and a passion for board games has led him to a June 2, 2020 Kickstarter launch for his very own board game.
Open Ocean is a reef building card game for 1-5 players that combines the fast-paced dynamics of card drafting with the strategy of tile placement in your reef.
“If you love family games, like Sushi Go!, Kingdomino, Azul or Splendor, (which are all awesome!) this will be right up your alley,” stated Bodkin. “It’s easy to learn, easy to teach, great with players of all ages, and takes 20-30 minutes because being able to fit a game in between dinner and bedtime is important in our family.”
Most drafting games are very much like playing multiplayer solitaire and after returning from a convention where he was testing his first game, the idea kind took off, Bodkin explained. “My kids got involved, and it snowballed from there.”
Kid tested

Standish resident Joel Bodkin

Bodkin and his wife, Allison, have lived in Standish for 12 years. During the day, he’s a product designer for Target. Games are his personal creative outlet. “They take all the things I love about design – story, illustration, craftsmanship – and combine them into one box,” he observed. “All that you have to add is the most important element of any design: people! Each player brings their own stories, experience, and passions to the table, and gets to create memorable moments that live on well after the board is cleaned up.”
He started making games with his two kids, Walt and Lily, when they were really little, trying to teach them more complex mechanics in easily understandable ways. Soon, Bodkin was running mini neighborhood playtests in his living room with their friends.
“My kids had so many fun ideas and so did their friends. The hardest part was cutting cards that didn’t work for this game, but it means we have plenty of cards for the team game sequel,” he said.
For Bodkin, games are a way for him to share and teach his kids the things he loves most in life: making things with his hands, creativity, problem-solving, strategy and storytelling.

His earlier memory is playing Husker Du with his dad and brothers in front of their wood-burning stove before bed. “Dad graduated us to Miles Borne when my brother Jeff was four by making a card holder for him by cutting slots in a 2×4 because his hands were too small to hold the cards,” recalled Bodkin. “The list got longer as I got older. Endless games of ‘War’ and ‘Go Fish’ with my Aunt Jo. Zilch at my grandparents kitchen table. Euchre with my papaw over donuts on Sundays, and at every family get together on my dad’s side.
“It gave our free time together purpose, which made space for conversations, and gave us all a chance to teach and to learn.”

Bringing it to life
Bodkin has been making things since he could first hold a crayon. It is how he’s wired. In the past few years, Bodkin said he has discovered what he was meant to do with that creative energy: create games.
He’s got another game ready to go if Open Ocean is a success, and has 10-15 ideas for games scribbled in various notebooks and stages in Tupperware containers around his house.
“I love the Kickstarter community because it is full of creators pursuing their dreams, and incredible people investing in ideas they believe in and helping bring them to life,” said Bodkin. “As a game creator it’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you hold something in your hands that you’ve worked on for so long. I want everyone who backs Open Ocean to feel that too, and that’s why I’m taking it to Kickstarter.”
His goal is to produce Open Oceans as quickly as possible, and has about 95% of it done already with sample copies made. He’d love to get it out before Christmas, but given the current state of the world and fluctuating timelines for manufacturing and shipping, it will likely be released in January 2021.
“People are home, they have time, and board games are a wonderful way to connect with family and friends,” stated Bodkin. “It’s an entry-price-point game, with a lot of replayability, and is actually really great for players of all ages. We play it with my 74-year-old inlaws and my 7-year-old daughter.”
It is currently available on Tabletop Simulator and will soon be on Tabletopia, two online platforms for playing board games online. An older version of the game is available to play as a print-and-play version on his website.
“I hope people enjoy the time they spend playing it together and create great memories, and dive into the wonderful world of hobby board games,” stated Bodkin.
Subscribe to Bodkin’s email list at for more information, updates, and invitations to game night at Dreamer’s Vault.

** Note – Open Ocean was fully funded within 24 hours, and stretch goals have been unlocked.

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Dig in, try something new and get inspired

Posted on 26 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen


The Hennepin County Master Gardener’s annual tour may be cancelled this year due to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean these gardeners don’t still have tips and tricks to offer. Three local gardeners open up their yards and their hearts. And don’t worry. Their gardens will be open next year instead.

On a roadtrip, she pulls into the nurseries she passes

Sandra Mangel’s cottage-style garden stops walkers in their tracks with its color and beauty. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Sandra Mangel loves color, and she feels color expresses the joy and love she has for life. The interior designer not only fills her home with color, but lets it flow through her gardens.
“My love for gardening and beauty came at an early age,” Mangel said. As a child, her father was in the war and when she was one year old she and her mom moved to California to be with her grandparents. “My grandmother had exquisite taste, and every day she had fresh flowers on the table.” Mangel’s mother was also a gardener who grew annuals, peonies, shrubs, roses and mock orange. Her mother-in-law was born on a farm and taught her about soil.
So with all this gardening background in her life, Mangel started gardening right away when she and her husband bought their home in south Minneapolis 48 years ago.
“I started with a rose garden in the back yard, because it was the only sunny spot we had,” she said. “I didn’t really think of gardening in the front yard, because that wasn’t the style then. I started gardening in the front yard about 30 years ago. The trees in the back yard had grown too tall and too lush for the rose beds.”
Her front bank garden has grown to incorporate the entire front yard sculpted within two small grassy areas. “I utilized my interior design skills to draft the initial plan to scale locating the perennials and shrubs. The annuals are sprinkled in each year for cutting and continuous color,”

Sandra Mangel enjoys beauty indoors and out. She applies her interior design skills to planning for continuous color. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Mangel explained.
She has taken out all the sod in the back yard and put in pavement to create a courtyard.
Mangel said she loves roses, lilies and phlox. “Phlox are blooming in the garden for a long time; they are lovely and lush and come in a whole variety of different colors. They are very hardy, and give a garden that fullness I desire.”

She said roses are the most challenging to grow, particularly with Japanese beetles and black spot attacking them. “I try to find something organic to combat those issues,” she said. “The only thing you can do with the beetles is pick them off.”

Sandra Mangel’s cottage-style garden stops walkers in their tracks with its color and beauty. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Day lilies are the easiest flower to grow, according to Mangel. “They are profuse and multiply like crazy. I have a whole bank of day lilies and hosta and white lamium. I keep dividing them, and last year took took all the lilies out and put in all pastels.”
Mangel said one of her rarest plants is a variegated Japanese pagoda in her backyard, a shrub that flowers lightly in the spring. “It grows very sparse and looks very Japanese. As it grows it has a lot of space in between. This is its third year. I found it in a nursery up north. When I take road trips, if I see a sign for a nursery I am definitely pulling in.”

Mangel said she has wanted to become a master gardener for a number of years and became one last year. “It’s extremely rewarding,” she said. “I help in community gardens and farmer’s markets, educating the public and making sure that people know who we are, and there is help available for problems and questions involving insects and plant diseases. We offer tips on what to plant for a rain garden or prairie garden or bird and butterfly garden.”


Keep your perspective shifting
so you’re surprised around the bend

Steve Miles enjoys his gardens year-round, designing when he isn’t planting or weeding. Since retiring, he’s had time to make major upgrades. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Steve Miles, who lives on Riverside Parkway, started gardening when he was about 30. “There was a spirea hedge that was ugly, and it smelled. So I removed it,” he said. “I asked a landscape guy how to garden. He came over and laid out the first garden with hoses.” Miles said he started laying out more gardens with hoses. “The nice thing about that is that you get the scale right. You lay the hoses down on the ground, and it’s no commitment. You just get to think about it.”
He added, “My first garden was in the sun, with perennials. The next two were in the shade, and I planted ferns and hostas. I learned how to do woodland plants by trial and error.”
Miles has gradually added gardens over the years. He now has a kitchen garden, in which he installed raised beds in 2018. “With the high beds and wide aisles, I can work it as I age,” he said. His front garden is Asian in style, and the kitchen garden in back is western in form, linear and geometric in keeping with its functional purpose. He put in a bioswale rain garden along the boulevard.

Hostas star in Steve Miles’ shade gardens. (Photo submitted)

“Originally I just stole the time to work in the gardens afternoons and evenings,” said Miles, a retired physician. “After I retired I made some more major upgrades. You do it in pieces.” He ordered 16 tons of stone and laid them in place instead of going to the gym.
“I put in a postman’s path, a cool thing from England,” he said. “You create a path so the postman can come straight across from the neighbor’s yard. You can incorporate it into the garden.”
Miles said he “lives out there” in his gardens. “It’s very peaceful; I put in benches for where I want to rest while I’m weeding.”
“The whole garden is designed for pollinators. One of the things that surprised me, the more bees I worked with, I never got stung.”
Miles said he chooses to use no herbicides or pesticides at all. He cut down on roses after a Japanese beetle plague some years ago, but he said there is a soil bacteria called milky spore that you can lay down in the garden, and it kills the larva of the beetles.

Miles added a kitchen garden with raised beds in 2018 so that he can work on it as he ages. (Photo submitted)

“The lawn itself is a garden,” Miles said. “I’ve got creeping charley, dandelions, squill, violets and forget-me-nots. I did not plan it that way, but that is critical for the bees. You have to let your lawn go native. If you spray it, you’re starving or killing the bees, so I don’t do any of that.”
Miles seeks diversity in his garden, which has many little microenvironments. He said that using curve shapes in a garden is so cool because it forces you to take bendy walks. “When you do that, the perspective is always shifting. Some days I take a walk and see an arrangement of plants that I had no idea I had set up, and it’s lovely.”
Miles said he works on gardening all year, designing when he isn’t planting or weeding. As a master gardener, he serves on an arboretum e-line, answering questions about lemon trees or philodendrons or how to clean up property.


A master gardener, not a master mulcher

Views of Melinda Ludwiczak’s gardens highlight her use of color year-round. Learn more about becoming a master gardener at (Photos submitted)

When Melinda Ludwiczak moved to Minneapolis in 1992 and worked as a community coordinator for Robbinsdale Schools, she started attending some classes taught by a master gardener. Twenty years ago, she became a master gardener herself.
“I have been inspired by what we learn,” she said. “A few years ago at one of our conferences, we had Thomas Friedman, a landscape architect, talk about how we need to look at our landscape as a plant community. You look at how things grow in nature, and how they grow in layers. He said we use too much mulch in our gardens in America. We are master gardeners, not master mulchers. Okay, I get that. So I try to understory things with plants, and I don’t use a lot of mulch.”
Ludwiczak said her garden is a work in progress. “You’re never finished. I decided to work with a landscaper to install some paths and stone.” She removed a buckthorn hedge that went all the way around the perimeter of her yard to the front. “I was inspired by one of my neighbors who had a lot of plants around the edge, and I liked that, so I started putting in a lot of plants.”
In the last few years, recognizing the pollinator crisis, especially with bees, Ludwiczak took a special training so that as a master gardener she could talk with the public about how to create more pollinator habitats. “I decided to really dig in to that,” she quipped. “So my garden is more of a pollinator design than a landscape design; it’s a mix of trees, shrubs, flowers, perennials and annuals. We kind of know what the pollinators like and why.” She created a pollinator habitat, with plants blooming from late April until October.

Views of Melinda Ludwiczak’s gardens highlight her use of color year-round. Learn more about becoming a master gardener at (Photos submitted)

“You want different heights, different colors and different petal shapes,” Ludwiczak explained. She said you have to give pollinators an opportunity to get into the flower to get the pollen.
She noted that butterflies are not pollinators, but they are in peril and need to survive. Flies are more abundant pollinators than any insect, but they are not in danger. Bees are. “We have several thousand different bees in the U.S. I think Minnesota has over 400 native bees,” she said.
At the last legislative session, legislators appropriated nearly a million dollars to enhance and create pollinator habitats in Minnesota. “They are offering homeowners reimbursement for pollinator habitat in their landscape,” Ludwiczak said. “There were 6,000 applicants this first go-round.”
She grows low-mow or no-mow grass, which provides a lawn that only needs to be mowed once or twice a season. “The grass doesn’t go to seed; it thickens up and grows taller and lays over,” Ludwiczak said. “My granddaughter calls it Dr. Seuss grass.”
She said more cities are changing ordinances so that people can install that kind of grass. People can learn how to do away with so much turf that doesn’t provide much nutrition to pollinators and other critters. They can plant more shrubs that are beneficial.
“I have seen more and more front yards that are just plants, in the city and suburbs, too.”
Hydrangea is Ludwiczak’s favorite plant. “It comes in so many colors and shapes,” she said. “And I am really proud of my lavender. There are only a couple varieties that survive our winters here, and I have had one for a long time in a sunny spot.”
For Ludwiczak, her biggest gardening struggle is with a rabbit and keeping it from eating everything. “He has eaten all the raspberries I have. I used to have a lot of shrubbery, and the rabbits ate them down to the ground. I gave up on them,” she commented.
“I also find growing plants in the shade challenging,” she continued. “We have shade over our deck, and trying to find plants that aren’t all hostas and have some color has been hard.”

Views of Melinda Ludwiczak’s gardens highlight her use of color year-round. Learn more about becoming a master gardener at (Photos submitted)

Her most unusual plant is a holly she has in the front of her house, one of the first things she got. “I don’t know what kind it is; I bought it when I was really new at this.”
Ludwiczak said she keeps busy as a master gardener, doing a lot of community education and helping plan the annual conference held each year. “The big trend this year is houseplants,” she said. “A lot of younger gardeners see it as internal decorating, if you don’t have a lot of room.”

Views of Melinda Ludwiczak’s gardens highlight her use of color year-round. Learn more about becoming a master gardener at (Photos submitted)

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On the watch for raptors in river gorge

Posted on 26 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

14 species of raptors in the neighborhood

A bald eagle surveyed the Mississippi River from high atop a white pine. There are at least 90 active bald eagle sites in the Twin Cities.(Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The Mississippi River Gorge runs right through the most densely populated, highly-urbanized part of Minnesota. The gorge is part of the Mississippi River Flyway, through which more than 300 species of birds pass every year on their spring and fall migrations. Of course, not everyone is just passing through.
Longfellow bird expert Dave Zumeta said, “We have identified birds of all shapes and sizes in the gorge. Some of the easiest to see without binoculars belong to the family of birds called raptors. We know of at least 14 species of raptors that migrate through, and/or winter in the gorge: the turkey vulture, the bald eagle, nine kinds of hawks, and three kinds of owls.”
What makes a bird a raptor? All raptors have hooked beaks, sharp talons on their feet, and very keen eyesight. The raptor’s beak sets it apart from other birds. All raptors have the same beak design, curved at the tip with sharp cutting edges to rip and tear apart their prey.
Bald eagles, which were on the U.S. Threatened and Endangered Species List until 2007, are now frequently seen soaring above the river gorge. Their numbers have been restored by the banning of the pesticide DDT and better habitat protection.
There are two bald eagle viewing spots along West River Parkway. One is between the RR bridge at 27th Street and the Lake Street Bridge, and the other is below Fairview Riverside Hospital. Both viewing spots are near nest sites. With West River Parkway closed indefinitely to cars, the bird watching is better than ever.
Zumeta is encouraged by the rise in population of bald eagles. He said, “When I moved to Minneapolis in 1981, I think there were about 200 breeding pairs left in the state. Now that number has climbed by a factor of almost 10. Minnesota has among the most breeding pairs of bald eagles of any other state besides Alaska. It’s a huge success story.”
Adult bald eagles are recognized by their white head and tail feathers, and their brown-feathered bodies. Their wing span averages 6-7.5 feet from tip to tip. Nests are constructed in large white or red pine trees, aspen or cottonwood, near lakes and rivers. There are an estimated 90 active eagle nests in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, according to the Minnesota DNR.
Eagle nests are built of sticks, commonly 6-8 feet across, and added to each year by the returning resident pair. Females lay up to three eggs beginning as early as January. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, which hatch in about 35 days. Eaglets start flying at three months of age, in late May through early July. Four weeks or so after they learn to fly, young eagles leave the nest for good.

Peregrine falcons: fastest birds
Another spot to see raptors is near Lock and Dam #1 at the Ford Dam site. Zumeta said, “There are great opportunities to see peregrine falcons here. The Observation Deck is closed due to COVID-19 but when it’s open, I think it’s one of the best place to see peregrines in the whole Twin Cities. For the second year, a pair is nesting on the underside of the Ford Bridge. Last year, they successfully reared four young there.”
Peregrine falcons are the fastest birds in the world. Zumeta said, “They are extremely territorial, and have been clocked dive bombing at 180 miles per hour. Several years ago I was walking across the Ford Bridge and I saw a Cooper’s hawk flying by. All of a sudden, a peregrine falcon dropped out of the sky like a shot. It must have been defending its nest. The Cooper’s hawk barely got away with its life.”
The Ford Dam site is also a likely spot to see great egrets. These spectacular white birds ply the waters of the gorge quietly looking for fish, frogs, snakes, and crayfish to eat. Great blue herons frequent this area as well. In flight, the great blue heron curls its neck into a tight “S” shape, and its legs trail distinctly behind its tail. Both the great egret and the great blue heron are big, showy birds – not raptors – but fun for new birders to identify.
Of three species of owls that are seen in the gorge, the barred owl is the only permanent resident. It is a large, stocky owl with a rounded head, no ear tufts, and a handsome horizontal striped chest plumage (the bars that give the owl its name). The barred owl nests in cavities in pine, spruce, fir, and cedar trees. It has a signature call that sounds like, “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all?”
Whether listening or watching for raptors, be patient, and be willing to be surprised. Zumeta said, “With birds, there’s always more to be seen. Eagles, ospreys, most of the hawks, vultures, and peregrine falcons are all more common in the gorge than they used to be. Here we are in the middle of a major urban area, with the chance to see least 14 species of raptors in our own neighborhood.”

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Games, music & art >> Connect

Posted on 04 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Kristi Anderson, at right holding Barney, appreciates seeing her neighbors at least once a day from a distance while they come together to sing. With her, from left to right, son, Josh (holding Boomer, the white dog); daughter, Taylor; and husband, Scott. One day, Caitlin Nightingale, whose parents live on Isabel Ave. and who is without a studio due to COVID-19, offered to snap photos of families on their front steps, part of her #frontporchproject. (Photo courtesy of Caitlin Nightingale Photography)

Play a game together with your neighbors when you join in the LoLa Scavenger Hunt. “Walks outside are still allowed, and are good for your physical and mental health. I intended this scavenger hunt to bring an element of novelty and excitement to an ordinary walk in the neighborhood, and also encourage neighbors to walk farther and longer,” observed local artist Jinjer Markley. “Also, it’s a game that we can play ‘together,’ and even check on each other’s progress by following the hashtags. My hope is that more frequent distance-greetings with our neighbors will make us all feel more like part of a community.”

Markley has lived in the Wonderland Park area of Longfellow for over six years with her husband Presley and her 13-year-old daughter. She was inspired by a similar activity in Lexington, Ky. where her mother lives. As Longfellow already has an established group of artists, it was easy to replicate the neighborhood game here.
She got enough volunteers to run two concurrent scavenger hunts – one in upper Longfellow, and one in lower Longfellow. The hunt started on April 15 and will continue through May 15.
“Go on walks in your neighborhood, looking in windows for art. Don’t forget to say hi from at least six feet away if you see a neighbor – even if it’s just with a wave. If you find art in a window, take a selfie with the art in the background – try to find all of the artworks on the scavenger hunt flyers, visible at If you post the selfie on social media, tag it #lolaquarantineartcrawl or #lolaqac. You could follow the tags to see who else is out and about in your neighborhood!”
The maps are also available online at the League of Longfellow Artists (LoLa) Facebook page or

Neighborhood sing
Each night at 7 p.m., neighborhood join in the Seven Oaks Front Porch Sing.
Kristi Anderson, who has lived on Isabel Ave. for three years, was inspired by news reports of Italians singing on their balconies, and people singing in Spain and Israel. When she heard about the local idea of singing “Imagine,” she pulled out the email list from National Night Out and suggested they step out onto their front steps or yards, sing and dance together.
“We have a pretty enthusiastic group of people,” said Anderson. “It’s nice to see your neighbors out there.”
The sing started with Isabel Ave. homes and stretched out from there. Anderson sends out an email each day with a list of 3-4 songs, lyrics and links to song videos. Fellow resident, Phil Hide, who also lives in the middle of the block, has taken over setting up a speaker to share the songs via Spotify each evening. They’ve done the Beatle’s “Here Comes the Sun” a few times, knowing it is a song some hospitals play when patients are released or removed from ventilators. In mid April, they sang a song from local musician Nachito Herrera, who returned home after COVID-19 hospitalization. For fun, they’ve also done the Hokey Pokey.
At the end of each Sing, they clap together in gratitude for frontline workers.
Anderson is glad to have an updated email list of neighbors. Sophia Kim used the list in April to put together a care package of prepared food for her friend – a single parent of a 12- and 14-year-old who has been working double shifts at the Hennepin County Medical Center emergency room. More than a dozen neighbors contributed to that effort. Neighbor Ann Prosser used the list to get the word out that Blue Cross and Allina were seeking homemade masks and to share other resources for making them.
Anderson includes a bit of art in her emails, as well: a photo of the painted rocks she sees while out walking her dogs. She began attributing them to the Rock-Painting-Artist Fairy – who turned out to be neighbor Gina Jorgensen.

In related news:


Lola Art Crawl Cancelled for 2020 as Alternative Formats Explored

Uncertainties and safety concerns around COVID-19 inform tough decision

On Tuesday, April 14, the steering committee for the League of Longfellow Artists (LoLa) notified artists
and supporters that they are cancelling what would have been the 12th annual LoLa Art Crawl originally
scheduled for Sept. 19–20, 2020. Given the high likelihood of a fall resurgence, or simply a continuation,
of COVID-19 infections, they felt that it would be risky and impractical to invest time and money in preparing for the crawl as usual. Instead, they will be exploring other ways to share the creative output of
LoLa artists with the community.

Artists have been understanding of the decision as they are coping with the effects of the coronavirus and
physical restrictions in their own lives. “I am disappointed and heartbroken,” said Maya Brown of mayamade.“I do however understand and think it’s the best decision for everyone.”

The crawl has been an annual event since its founding in 2009, and the committee members—Steve
Clark, Lisa Anderson, Sharon Parker, Sue Romain, Chris Miller, and Ken Wenzel—came to the decision
to cancel it with a degree of disappointment and resignation.

The decision was informed by a few realizations: (1) Public health concerns around welcoming strangers
into close proximity inside artists’ yards, homes, studios and small businesses; (2) Uncertainty about what
lies ahead and the likelihood that it would have to be called off as we got closer to the date; (3) The financial
hardship faced by our neighborhood businesses, which provide a significant portion of the funding
that makes the crawl possible. “Frankly, we didn’t even want to ask,” said Parker about soliciting sponsor
Normally, if the crawl were to go forward as in the past, volunteers would need to start preparations now.
“Spending thousands of hours of volunteer time between now and September only to cancel is not the best
use of our resources,” said Bob Schmitt in response to the announcement. Schmitt is past administrator
and co-founder of LoLa along with Anita White.

LoLa artist Megan Moore stood next to her mural on the Minnehaha Scoops building earlier this year.
The artwork wraps around the building, see it at 3352 Minnehaha Avenue.

This spring and early summer, the organizers will be communicating with LoLa artists and other stakeholders in various ways, using technology that has become increasingly common in these days of coming together while distancing, as well as phone calls, email, and other means. The group’s goals remain to showcase and promote LoLa artists in their art-making, exhibiting, and sales; involve local businesses in ways that are mutually beneficial; and connect with the community.

They expect to employ a mix of social media, the LoLa website, and home and business activities throughout Longfellow for community members to explore and enjoy the richness of our artist community and small independent business partners in appropriate physically distanced ways. The forms this will take are yet to be determined and will be informed by the networking and communications described above.
Among the projects in the works are a series of art “scavenger” hunts, with flyers made available via Facebook and NextDoor. Please watch for announcements and news from LoLa in The Messenger and other media in the coming months, and on social media via the handle and hashtag LoLaArtistsMN.

When you go on walks and bike rides in the neighborhood, look for art all around you—on buildings and utility boxes, in the windows and front yards of artists’ homes, and even on top of Little Free Libraries (one LoLa artist, Terry Faust, makes “Wee Weather Vanes” for LFLs)—as we continue to make and share our art in sometimes surprising ways.

“We will grow out of this setback. And we will flourish,” said Schmitt.
“We move ahead with courage,” said White.

LoLa is the League of Longfellow Artists, which is a volunteer-driven community organization that showcases, nurtures and supports Longfellow art and artists. It began in 2009 as a small grassroots effort to raise the visibility of artists living or working in the Greater Longfellow Neighborhood of South Minneapolis.

The annual LoLa art crawl started with 42 artists at 20 sites and has grown ever since, with 119
participating artists in 2019 exhibiting at 56 sites. LoLa looks forward to meeting with the public again
next year.

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COVID-19 – Small businesses: ‘It’s all personal’

Posted on 04 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Local restaurants are adjusting to the Stay at Home order while other businesses are considering how to reopen under Governor Walz’s most recent guidelines.

More and more customers are heeding the warnings and wearing masks in stores. Here, Doug Flicker purchases items from Assistant Manager Colleen Burke at the East Lake Ace Hardware. Workers wipe down the counter, card machines and barriers after customer purchases. (Photo by Terry Faust)

Hi-Lo Diner (4020 E. Lake St.) closed the Sunday night before the government shutdown of restaurants. It was a hard decision, but co-owners James Brown and Mike Smith were worried about the safety of their staff members and wanted to take some time to evaluate things.
Thanks to a PPP loan, the diner reopened for take-out last weekend, starting with dinner on Saturday, April 25. “We had 32 employees before the pandemic and will be able to bring a lot of them back on,” stated Brown.
They are excited to be reopening, even if it is just for take-out, and Brown pointed out it is a huge help to be able to offer beer and wine to-go. They plan to also offer Bloody Mary and mimosa kits, in addition to brunch Saturdays and Sundays.
“I think the future of small business – and specifically restaurants – is to make it personal,” observed Brown. “Small businesses give our community a third place, not home or work, but it is a part of the community. We are swiping left on ‘It’s just business, it’s not personal;’ it is all totally personal, and that is how we can make it through this.”
Brown is concerned for the undocumented workers in America right now. “They can’t get unemployment, or federal stimulus money, It’s really hard for them during this time,” he said.
Hi-Lo will be open Thursday and Friday 4-8 p.m. Saturday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-8 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “The best way to support us is to call in and order food,” he said.

Fun City Dogs reopens for 10th anniversary
Fun City Dogs (2200 E. 25th St.) will reopen this week, just in time for its 10th anniversary on May 1, although its big party has been put on hold.
The doggy day care temporarily closed on March 23, 2020, when they had no boarders for the first time in five years. “Our daycare numbers had dropped significantly with people working from home,” explained owner RyAnne Quirk. “My mother, 83 years, lives in my house and I was very concerned about bringing home the virus. We were all worried about getting sick. It seemed right to close for a few weeks and help flatten the curve.”
Most of the other doggy day care operations in the Twin Cities remained open. Fun City Dogs sold dog food online with home delivery in the neighborhood.
A day after Governor Walz’s new guidelines were released, Quirk was busy planning safety protocols. “There will be a gated area outside our front door for dog drop offs. That way the customers and employees will have limited contact. The customer will remove the collar and leash, again to limit contact. The staff will then open the front door and bring the dog into the center. Going home will operate the same way; the customer will call for pick up, we will bring the dog to the front gate and the customer will put on the leash and collar to go home.
“Inside, the staff will have masks and continue our normal cleaning regimen. We already clean, sanitize and have air purifiers set up to combat canine parvovirus.”
She added, “I feel like now is a good time to reopen.”

34th Ave. businesses band together
Nokomis Tattoo owner Mike Welch has banded together with other 34th Ave. business owners as they are not only dealing with COVID-19 related closures, but also road construction for the second summer.
The group released a promotional video, and started a new Instagram account (34thAveNEBA). Six business take turns posting photos and information, including Paddlesculpt, Berrysweet Kitchen, Grand Sunrise Mexican Restaurant, The Workshop,Replace and Nokomis Tattoo.
Welsh, who also serves on the board of the Nokomis East Business Association and the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association, closed his tattoo shop on Tuesday, March 17. He’s grateful for his wife’s teaching position with the Mounds View School District as his business income has taken a hit. He is doing some pet portraits on commission, and is thankful for a supportive clientele.
“This is completely uncharted territory for my business plan,” he said.
Welsh pointed out that the biggest worry for businesses along 34th Ave. is rent payments. ”None of us have extra money,” he said. “It’s a very scary time.”
He encouraged residents, “Reach out to businesses and find out how you can support them.”
The group has also released a new Nokomis t-shirt designed by Jeffrey K. Johnson from Replace, and all the profits go to a business of choice. Shirts are American-made and cost $25-$28. Pre-orders end May 8.

WRBA focuses on helping neighborhood businesses
The WRBA (West of the Rail Business Association) is focusing its efforts on offering programs free of charge that will be helpful for local, small businesses right now, and has put its other initiatives on pause. “We have capacity to help our community now, and we believe that is the right thing to do,” said WRBA and Standish Ericsson Neighborhood Association Program Director Emerson Sample, who started in July 2019.
He observed, “Our team is distancing from each other, which has made communication and getting things done harder. Now some of our best conversations are around how to re-define success for a day at work, and what things we can do to have a positive impact as quickly as possible.”
WRBA is focusing on sharing information through social media and other online options. Sample said he has two goals: to let as many businesses as possible know about the resources out there for them, and to help people know how to stay connected in the community by supporting area businesses.
“The WRBA has not officially re-launched yet, so it feels like trying to jump start a car while you’re rolling down a big hill.,” said Sample. “I’ve accepted that this is a powerful virus that we have to respond to, that we don’t have the tools to tell it what to do. I’m just trying to control what I can and play my role to the best of my ability to flatten the curve, and help people come out on the other side in as good of shape as possible.”

Messenger offers free listings on What’s Open page
The Longfellow Nokomis Messenger has added a free self-serve What’s Open page to its web site to help businesses connect with community members. Go to and click on What’s Open.
After creating a free account, businesses can quickly post their current hours, what they’re offering, and contact information, and then update the listing as needed.

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Kids learn through play

Posted on 04 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

While you’re at home during this extended break from school, try these ideas from Free Forest School


Free Forest School Executive Director Anna Sharratt said, “This idea started as an outdoor play group. It has turned into a river I’ve been riding for several years now.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Let them be kids, outdoors. Let them learn through unstructured play in nature.
That’s the cornerstone belief of Free Forest School, a volunteer-led program that operates in 200+ cities across the country.
Right now, their weekly outdoor gatherings are, of course, suspended, but it’s easy to put the principles of Free Forest School to use during this extended break from school.
Longfellow resident Anna Sharratt developed the idea for the program five years ago, when her young family lived in Brooklyn, N.Y. She and her husband had signed their four-year-old up for a pre-K learning program, and the kids didn’t set foot outdoors for a whole month.
Sharratt, who grew up alongside Minnehaha Creek and camping in the BWCA, was stunned. She said, “In my way of thinking, learning and nature are inseparable. I had hoped to meet other families in the neighborhood, thinking we could get together outside of school, chill out, and play. I found parenting in New York City to be very competitive. The idea for Free Forest School grew out of that longing for non-competitive, quality time spent outdoors with other families.”
Two months after Sharratt started the first chapter of Free Forest School in Brooklyn, her family moved to Austin, Texas. Once seeds were planted in those two places, people started contacting her from around the country asking, “How can I start this up in my town?”

“There is no such thing
as bad weather,
only bad clothing.”
~ Scandinavian saying

Focus on supportive communities for parents and kids
The Free Forest School model is straight forward; it focuses on creating supportive communities. Parents can parent in different ways while encouraging child-led, unstructured play.
Sharratt said, “There are so many people who attend our play groups. Adults say they forge a deeper relationship with their kids through unstructured play, because so many of their usual power struggles disappear. There is less adult talking and explaining, there are fewer rules.”
The suggested age range for children is 0-6 years, but the majority of kids are 1-4. Every Free Forest School chapter has a director. It’s that person’s job to recruit parent facilitators from the community and to train them.
One of the ongoing Minneapolis sites is Theodore Wirth Park, where a Free Forest School chapter has met on Monday mornings at a certain trailhead for the past four years.
Sharratt explained, “We have a strong emphasis on place-based learning, so we go back to the same place throughout the seasons. Kids love to explore in the rain and mud of April, the heat and humidity of June, the snow and ice of January.”
Place-based learning might come as something of a relief during this time of staying at home, or close to home. According to Sharratt, young children are just as happy, maybe happier, going back to the same place over and over again.
Now that even playgrounds are closed or discouraged, here’s the best news yet. Find a scrappy patch of woods near your house; any nearby nature spot will do. Take the kids there and, after making sure it’s reasonably safe, led them take the lead in their own unstructured play.
Sharratt encourages parents to think back to their own memories of childhood, asking, “What places in nature were most meaningful for you? It’s probably not the trip your whole family took to a national park, though it could be. It’s more likely a tree you loved to climb by yourself, or a vacant neighborhood lot where you built a fort with your friends. These are experiences that give kids a sense of autonomy, which is especially important in this time of ‘helicopter parenting.’”

“Kids are hard wired to learn through play in nature, but parents can get in the way with too much structure and over-scheduling.” ~ Anna Sharratt

Every day outside
It is unlikely that Free Forest School playgroups will be meeting this summer, given the current health emergency.
In the meantime, the website is resource rich, and includes a COVID-19 inspired initiative called Every Day Outside on the blog. It’s a place to share ideas, play prompts, inspirations, and ideas for child-led activities. There are also weekly emails that dive deeper into the value of unstructured play for the whole family. For more information, visit or or email
“It may look like we’re educating children, but we’re really educating adults,” said Sharratt. “Kids are hard wired to learn through play in nature, but parents can get in the way with too much structure and over-scheduling.”
So, even though Free Forest School isn’t formally meeting right now, Sharratt said the emphasis hasn’t changed one bit. Today is the perfect day to get outside with your kids. Let them cross a stream on rocks or climb a tree. They might look like they’re “just playing,” (and what’s wrong with that?) but they’re also developing their sense of spatial awareness, large and small motor skills, balance, critical thinking, and much more.

In a nutshell
Free Forest School ignites children’s innate capacity to learn through unstructured play in nature, fostering healthy development and nurturing the next generation of creative thinkers, collaborative leaders, and environmental stewards.

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Rooftop prairie: Nokomis family doesn’t have to go far to relax

Posted on 04 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Home & Garden

“Water quality and stormwater management are really big values for us,” observed Nokomis resident Steffanie Musich as she drinks a glass of water on her rooftop garden. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)


When Steffanie Musich sits on her green roof looking out over the rooftop prairie and the tree canopy, it’s hard to remember that she’s in the city.
That sense of peace and relaxation without having to get in the car is exactly what she was aiming for.
The 11-year Nokomis resident, her husband Matt and son live within blocks of Highway 62 and Cedar, surrounded by the constant hum of traffic and roar of airplanes. They’re also close to Lake Nokomis, and have dedicated years to the intricacies of water quality and sustainability issues.
The green roof is an extension of those values, and a way to demonstrate how it can work in a neighborhood.
When Musich read about the green roofs being installed by Omni Ecosystems of Chicago, Ill. they resonated with her. She didn’t want the type of living roof that merely had a sedum tray of close-to-the-ground plants. Instead, she envisioned a prairie.
The problem is that a roof with 1.5 to 2 feet of soil material is heavy – and gets even more so with a load of snow on it. Plus, the costs of a roof like that are typically beyond what a homeowner can pay.
But Omni Ecosystems offered an innovative system using a new lightweight growing medium with a higher capacity for stormwater management, which allows them to build lighter green roof systems that require less structural capacity. Omni’s projects include the O’Hare Terminal 2 Concourse, Harvard Business School, Chicago’s Wild Mile, and McDonald’s corporate headquarters.
The 300-square-foot green roof at the Musich residence cost about $17,000. That doesn’t include the cost of replacing the garage or the flat roof that is underneath.
While the initial cost is higher than a regular roof, the Musich family believes the positive impacts on their mental health, the extended life of the flat roof beneath it, and the environmental impacts are worth it.
It was 2015 when they began envisioning the project. The couple hired Craft Design and Build from Uptown Minneapolis as the general contractor, and Jody McGuire of SALA Design as architect. Steffanie and Matt saved on costs by doing much of the construction themselves, including all the painting, stucco, and finishing work, putting in time in the evenings and weekends. For the rest, they refinanced and rolled the cost in.
It is important to them that the living roof will last 50-100 years, 3-5 times longer than a traditional roof.
The green roof doesn’t heat up as much in the summer, and it provides insulation in the winter. “Green roofs help with urban heat island effects,” observed Musich.
Bonus: brewery space and sauna
The two-car garage on the property was rotting and didn’t have footings under the cement slab. So they tore it down and started from scratch. The new three-car garage uses three sets of three tri-lam beams made of manufactured wood to distribute the weight. A room in the center helps support the load of the roof. As an added bonus, they moved their longtime home brew operation into the new space and got it out of the house.
The garage is connected to the house via a main floor breezeway and a second story deck. An upstairs door offers the only way to access the green roof. Near the plants is a beehive decorated by local artist Jamie Anderson.
Nestled in the prairie is a sauna that’s been a great way to pull the neighborhood together in the winter months.

Green roof part of system of rain gardens and more
When the house needed a new roof eight years ago, Steffanie and Matt opted for a “cool roof.” The steel roof reflects sunlight and heat away from the building, reducing roof temperatures by 50–60°F over a typical shingle roof and helps the house stay cooler inside. The material is also a lifetime product.
“Water quality and stormwater management are really big values for us,” observed Musich. She started Friends of Lake Nokomis, and has served on the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board since 2014.
Given their proximity to Lake Nokomis, Musich wanted to replace an impermeable surface with one that would hold water in place and not flood the city’s stormwater system. “Part of what we’re trying to do is keep stormwater on our property for a longer period of time to reduce the volume of water the city infrastructure needs to manage during a storm event,” she explained.
Their green roof can hold a one-inch rainfall. More than that runs off the backside where they’ve done some regrading. They added a raingarden for Steffanie’s birthday last year that holds more water and keeps it from flowing immediately into the street. They plan to add another in the front in an effort to hold as much water as they can on site.
Over the years, they had also overseeded the backyard grass in favor of plants (such as clover) that help capture water and provide habitat for pollinators. They mow at 4 inches to allow for a deeper root system, which in turns means the plants are able to take more water into the ground than if the lawn was mowed shorter – a tip she learned through her master gardener training.
The best practices guidelines have been to hold a one-inch rainfall, although Musich foresees that may change as the state has been experiencing more and more high rainfall events. “One inch was unusual and on the high end, but now we’re seeing 2-3-4-6-inch rainfall events,” she said.
Musich pointed out it’s important to keep raingardens 10 feet from a building foundation to avoid basement flooding. Using a French drain between homes helps the water move and protects both homes.
Due to the way their home sits on their corner lot, their backyard is essentially their neighbor’s front yard. The new garage and green roof helped them carve out a private space.
“Plus we’re up in the canopy,” said Musich. “We get to see the birds and the squirrels in their element.”

‘Cathartic to care for natural space’
Initially, they planted 24 plugs with six different sedges, forbes, and grasses that were overseeded with a mix of annuals and perennials. Not everything was native.
White asters, white yarrow, black-eyes susan, mountain mint, purple coneflower, bachelor buttons, baby’s breath, columbine and more grow on the roof. The rooftop prairie starts blooming in April and continues through fall.
“The first thing that starts to bloom is the baby’s breath, which is self seeding. We’ll get a field of white which is beautiful at night,” said Musich. The first year, many poppies bloomed but they haven’t seen any since, and the wild indigo bloomed just the first two years. Meanwhile, the purple coneflower was elusive until the summer of 2019.
“It’s been very interesting to watch the evolution of the plants and the way they cluster and change,” said Musich.
The maintenance of the roof each year is minimal. “I’ll come out here and weed a couple times a month,” remarked Musich. “If I’m having a particularly stressful week, I’ll be out here more frequently. It’s very cathartic to care for a natural space.”

Benefits of green roofs
Ordinarily, rainwater picks up contaminants and heat as it rushes across roofing and other hard surfaces on its way to lakes and rivers. Green roofs hold onto much of the rain, reducing the runoff that would otherwise cause water pollution and decreasing the need for additional (and expensive) stormwater treatment infrastructure.

Because the waterproofing membrane is underneath the other layers of the green roof, it is protected from factors that can cause roofs to fail: extreme heat, UV radiation, and thermal swings. In general, green roofs last longer than conventional roofs, reducing both consumption and waste.

The plants on a green roof shade the building, and further cool it through the natural process of evapotranspiration. If enough roofs in a city are greened, they can combat the urban heat island and help mitigate the effects of global warming.

Green roofs create green spaces in the built environment that birds and beneficial insects can use as habitat. Green roofs also beautify cities, creating better habitat for humans as well.

Green roofs improve air quality by taking up carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, and by filtering airborne particulates.
~ Information from

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Envision community: A model for tiny homes, big community

Posted on 04 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Sherry Shannon is one of five formerly homeless community members leading the Envision Community. Behind her is an architectural drawing of the project. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Dewayne Parker became homeless in 2017. For lack of a better option, he ended up sleeping for months on the Green Line train. One winter night, that sleeping arrangement very nearly got him killed.
Parker said, ”Everybody knows it’s dangerous living on the streets. What I want the broader community to understand is that anyone can end up homeless. Some of the most intelligent and resourceful people I’ve ever met lost their housing. It doesn’t take much for things to fall apart.”
Parker is one of five homeless or previously homeless community members serving as leaders on a new housing model called Envision Community. After meeting for more than a year, the group has embraced the idea of starting a community of “tiny homes” for the poor and homeless to be built somewhere in South Minneapolis.

“There’s a terrible housing shortage, but that’s just part of it.
The headline, and one of the things that’s really different with our model, is that we’re creating an intentional community – one where residents feel a sense of belonging. This movement has to be led by people who have experienced homelessness, and we have to be certain that
what we’re building is desirable for those same people.”
~ Dr. William Walsh, Envision Community advisor

Tiny, deeply affordable homes
Envision Community is a proposal to build and operate a two-year live demonstration of an intentional community made up of 15-30 people living in tiny homes, with the goal of creating health equity.
The tiny homes, just a few hundred square feet each, would be deeply affordable – appealing to the growing number of low-income people shut out of the metro area’s housing market. They would be part of a cluster development centered around a larger, shared community house for meals and other gatherings.
What does it mean to be shut out of the housing market? For starters, many people with low-wage jobs simply can’t afford the high cost of rent in the Twin Cities. Other barriers to housing are having a criminal record, a poor credit score, a past eviction, or a chemical dependency problem. Landlords can easily avoid renting to someone with any one of the above.

Envision it
The Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved an intentional community cluster development ordinance last November. This allows for a new type of affordable housing for people transitioning out of homelessness. A collaborative made up of representatives from 17 different organizations, and led by members of the Twin Cities homeless community, are working together to plan what the Envision Community will be.

Working full-time, single-parenting two kids and homeless
When there is nowhere else to go, people without a safety net may quickly end up living on the street.
Sherry Shannon did. Born and raised in South Minneapolis, she first became homeless while working full-time and single-parenting two children. It was a long road from homelessness, to living in a shelter, to transitional housing, to the apartment where she now lives in Roseville.
Shannon is also an Envision community leader; she is candid about her struggles, which include a PTSD diagnosis, and her successes. She said, “Once I got into stable housing, I could finally start working on my disability. Things came together pretty quickly then. I started talking about my situation, and trying to help other people move forward too. Last year, I won the Dorothy Richardson Award for community leadership.
“After I gave my acceptance speech in Chicago, a couple of ladies came up to me and asked, ‘How did you ever get through all this?’” I told them, ‘I couldn’t have done it without a place to call home.’”

Costly medical problems, homelessness go hand-in-hand
The Envision Community, if approved by the city of Minneapolis, would be the first community of tiny homes in the Twin Cities Metro.
Another first would be forming a strong collaboration with the health care system. Doctors also desire innovative housing models after seeing how often homeless patients turn up at hospitals with complicated, costly medical problems – many of them caused by being homeless.
Dr. William Walsh believes that homelessness is a public health crisis. A reconstructive surgeon at Hennepin Health Care and a researcher at the University of Minnesota, he serves as advisor to the Envision Community team. Dr. Walsh said, “Homelessness profoundly affects a person’s health, and puts enormous strain on the health care system.”
He added, “There are moral and financial motivations for the health care system to get involved in ending homelessness, but with the current failure of affordable housing – we can’t fix it. What’s needed is an innovative new model like Envision. We can bring housing costs down without compromising the quality of life for people moving into our housing model. With a strong emphasis on building community, as well as building homes, the quality of life of life for our residents will go up.”
The Pohlad Foundation funded the construction of a pilot tiny house for Envision. It will be set up in the parking lot of Elim Church in Northeast Minneapolis later this summer. Additional funding for Envision Community has come through the Family Housing Fund and the McKnight Foundation.
Two adjacent city lots will be needed to build the project on, with easy access to public transportation and walkable amenities. The property has not yet been found.

If you want people to listen, you have to speak up
Rome Darring is also a community leader on the project. When he first got involved with Envision, he found it hard to share his story of being homeless. He said, “I’ve gone through a lot of changes since this started. As an advocate for the homeless, I was at the State Capitol today participating in a press conference. I was so nervous about it that I couldn’t sleep at all the night before. But I’ve learned that if you want people to listen, you have to be willing to speak – so I made myself stand up and do it.”
Visit the Envision Community website at for more information.



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Community response to a global situation

Posted on 24 March 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Coronavirus Pandemic

Neighbors got outside and built community near Brackett Park on Sunday, March 22, 2020 for the Corona-Cautious Classic biking extravaganza. Above, Hans, Ann, and Eve Thorkelson cheer on the participants. Below Ellen Sharratt participates. One child at a time, at 10 minute intervals, vied for Fastest Lap or Most Laps in 10 Minutes and competed for costume/spirit awards. Drinks, snacks, signs, bells, bullhorns were encouraged.

“We are continuing to bake bread because we believe in the power of such a basic food,” said Christopher MacLeod of Laune Bread, a microbakery and bread delivery service in South Minneapolis. “To our subscribers it carries a lot of meaning – it is a weekly ritual for many of them, but it is also nutrient dense and life sustaining.”
As restaurants closed to sit-down customers and with it their pick-up sites, MacLeod and his partner, Tiff Singh, asked themselves what they should do. Should they continue baking and delivering bread? Is it safe and smart?
“We are healthy, but that isn’t a guarantee, and it is scary. It gives us a lot of anxiety,” they admitted. “We have both been sitting in front of our computers hours on end every day corresponding with our subscribers and others who ask for bread, watching the news rapidly change, and trying to develop new logistical systems and also health and food safety procedures.”
They decided to discontinue pick-up locations and do delivery only. They dropped the $1 bike delivery fee, moved to car delivery, and narrowed their delivery area. They made some changes to reduce risk, including heavily cleaning and sanitizing surfaces and their hands during the bake, and wearing food safe gloves and face masks at all times after the bread comes out of the oven and during the delivery.
Their business is flexible because it is relatively small and operates without a storefront.
This week they added a second bake to keep up with demand and to offer people a chance to purchase bread at whatever price they could afford. “In 24 hours, 51 loaves of bread have been donated through our subscribers and the community at large,” observed MacLeod.
“We want to keep offering sustenance, but beyond our regular members – last week we donated 20 loaves (we donated 10 and our members paid for 10) through our members to people who needed them: school teachers, elderly neighbors, hair stylists, and families. It’s a language of humanity – the meaning of our bread spreads beyond the bakery to those who buy it, to those who are gifted it.”
Of those donated loaves, five went to a subscriber who shared them with others.
“Your bread fed: me, my partner teacher who is caring for her mother as she recovers from having her gallbladder removed, a friend of our gym teacher who was in need, the teacher I did student teaching with who just had to adopt the younger (half) sibling of one of her kids, and a teacher who is in treatment for breast cancer,” wrote the woman. “Thank you, from all of us.”
MacLeod and Singh recognize the situation is precarious and at some point they may discontinue baking bread, but right now they’re focusing on supporting their community and are being supported in return.
“We are a small business, but the ingredients we bake with make a big difference to many people,” they said.

Annual fish fry attendance drops, church works to
encourage parish family
Each year, hundreds of people line up at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church in Longfellow for the Friday night Fish Fry during Lent.
But not this year.
As Governor Walz declared a peacetime emergency on Friday, March 13, church volunteers debated whether to continue with that night’s fish fry. “We did go ahead and do the dinner on March 13 because it’s a little like stopping a locomotive on a dime to try to cancel at the last minute,” observed Erin Sim, the church office and communications manager.
“Gallons of coleslaw were ready, and many pounds of fish thawed. We served about 425 people that night, as opposed to the 1,100-1,350 we might have done on a regular third night. But even Archbishop Hebda came, as he hates to miss our Fish Dinners (which one of the local radio stations called ‘The Vegas of Fish Fries!’).”
The loss of revenue will have a huge impact on the church’s budget, as it is one of two major fundraisers held each year, according to Sim. “We miss the ‘fun raising’ as well, because we have such a good time showing our guests a warm welcome and feeding them well.”
The church is considering doing some variation of the dinners when it is safe to do so, perhaps tying fish ‘n’ chips in with its annual Bingo-Rama nights in July.
“Meanwhile, as with all the faith communities, we have cancelled our masses (daily and weekend) and all other gatherings until it’s safe to offer them again. We are live-streaming our Sunday morning 9:30 a.m. mass using Facebook Live on our St. Albert the Great Facebook page and then archiving the result on our website:, under the Worship with Us tab.
“Our small staff will take turns spending a day in the office, Tuesday through Friday, but otherwise will work from home to keep publishing the Bulletin and trying to keep our parish family informed, encouraged and together in these days when we can’t interact in person.”

Kennedy Transmission offers home pick-up and drop-off
Kennedy Transmission CVT & Auto at 3423 E. Lake St. typically has appointments scheduled one to two weeks out as they are one of only a handful of shops in the U.S. that specialize in repair of CVT (Constant Variable Transmission) and Hybrid Drive systems. Their appointment calendar has dropped off dramatically the week beginning on Monday, March 23.
“I know a number of repair shops that have closed or are expecting to close very soon and this makes me very nervous. I have a small staff of very talented people who very much want to keep working as normal,” said owner Matt Johnson. “At this point we are classified an ‘essential’ sector of the economy to facilitate transportation and as such plan on staying healthy and working through the duration if at all possible.”
He has walled off the customer area from the front desk area with plexiglass, and employees are using the shop service door instead of the customer entrance. They are disinfecting door handles, countertops and hard surfaces throughout the day and doing a thorough bleaching at night. They are wiping down customer’s steering wheels and gear shifters after completing work.
“Although some of these measures slow our workflow a bit, I think we need to do everything practical to mitigate the risk of virus spread,” remarked Johnson.
“I have always said that we have the best customers and this has really been evident the past week,” said Johnson. ”I have received a lot of calls and visits just to check in on us and make sure things are going well. Our hope is that people are able to work and stay safe at the same time; and we can continue to maintain their vehicles. I think it is generally imperative that anyone showing possible symptoms of COVID-19 quarantine themselves to limit potential spread.”
To help those with underlying health issues as well as those who simply want to limit their time in public spaces, Kennedy Transmission has begun picking up customer vehicles and dropping them back off.
“We have also decided we would do whatever we can to provide basic help to our customers at no charge,” said Johnson. “In particular, if someone in the neighborhood needs a tire aired up or a jump-start, I will try and be there in a timely manner and get them back on the road. Although it may be a little thing, I think if everyone helps a little here or there, we will weather this better together.”
He is also making a few supply runs for neighborhood residents who need something from Target or Walgreens, fitting them in between his work responsibilities.
“If Italy, Spain, etc. have any parallel to the U.S. then things will get a lot worse before they get better,” observed Johnson. “Minneapolis is a wonderful community and I think basic best hygiene, social distancing and common sense practices as well as supporting our neighbors will be the key to weathering this crisis.”

Business organizations,
neighbors support each other
Businesses in the neighborhood are facing the challenge of adjusting to the new information and restrictions that are coming out daily, observed Kim Jakus of the Longfellow Business Association. Those without direct contact with the public are taking precautions for their employees and workplaces. Restaurants and retail locations are being hit harder, reducing hours, laying off workers, transitioning to online orders, implementing pick-up or delivery options, and offering gift cards for later redemption. They’re trying to figure out how to manage expenses, pinpoint which can be delayed and which still need to be paid.
“I see a lot of generosity from the community on Next Door encouraging neighbors to still support local businesses,” Jakus said.
Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson has taken the lead on creating a Google spreadsheet listing all local businesses and whether they are still open or not. Find the link on his Facebook page.
The LBA, Lake Street Council and Redesign are partnering together to provide small businesses with information on resources available to them. They list items on their web sites and share them through regular email updates. Highlights include Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans are available for small businesses and monthly sales taxes have been deferred a month.
“We’re connecting on how we can work together to support businesses in our geographic scope. Probably a lot of that will come on the tail end of this crisis and figuring out what recovery looks like,” observed Jakus.

Trying to manage life
in a pandemic
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Longfellow resident Don Hammen became selective about when he left his house. On March 15, he took a tape measure to church to ensure there was over six feet between him and others.
He decided to skip the Neighborhoods 2020 meeting the next day, although it pained him. But he was still planning to pull together Elder Voices (Telling Our Stories) at Turtle Bread as usual the fourth Friday of the month.
He stocked up on frozen foods and canned goods, and continued to use Meals on Wheels. As the week went on, he discovered that buying groceries through Cub Home Delivery was becoming harder. He could no longer place a delivery in the morning and get it later that day; instead, a Thursday order wouldn’t come until Sunday.
Being dependent on mass transit, Hammen was confident he could continue to use it to get around. Things changed later in the week when Mass Transit announced new guidelines on how many people could be on a bus and restricting non-essential travel. “I can live with this but if they ever did a complete shut down I would have a real problem,” said Hammen.
Complicating things is that his refrigerator appears to be dying.
He’s wondering how “we are in this together” is actually playing out at the neighborhood level. Will social distancing mean social isolation?
“The fact of the matter is I’m still trying to figure out how to manage my life in this COVID-19 situation,” Hammen said.

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