Thursday, July 30, 2009

People among us 3: Hmong in Minnesota

Farmers markets are flourishing in Minnesota. There are three times the number of markets today than there was five years ago.

One of the reasons why is the Hmong farmers who represent about 70 percent of sellers at markets. I went to do a little story at one of the local ones last night, and I walked away with three bulging bags of vegetables. As journalists, ethically we aren't supposed to take anything tangible away from a story. So I protested for a good five minutes why I couldn't take an overflowing bag of zucchini, another of cucumbers, and another of green beans. The woman kept telling me, "you take. You take. It's our culture. We give. Yes. Yes. You take. Take for him." So finally I succumbed and took the bags while my photographer took what some would call the ethically high road. I took the polite one.

The Hmong are an ethnic group from Southeast Asia. While they are scattered over China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, most Hmong in Minnesota hail from northern Laos. Numbers I found estimate the population at 60,000 in Minnesota out of 150,000 in the entire US. They have a distinct dress and culture, and often you see several generations and extended family living under one roof. The Hmong fought with the US during the Vietnam conflict, which ultimately resulted in their migration away from their homeland. After the first wave in the late 70s, there was another resettlement here in 2004.

Most Hmong are around St. Paul, which claims to be the largest urban Hmong population in the world. Right around the corner from where I work, a group of visionaries are opening up a very large K-12 school. They have a waiting list.

Something I've learned covering them is that women generally have three names (first name + mother + father last name) and men have two (first name + father's name). Women do not change their names, but keep the name of their birth clan. There are several rules to this, and I don't understand all of them, but it's accepted for people to change their names with ceremonies or status throughout life. There are about 19 Hmong clans in Laos: Cha or Chang, Cheng, Chu, Fang, Hang, Her, Khang, Kong, Kue, Lor or Lo, Lee or Ly, Moua, Phang, Tang, Thao, Vang, Vue, Xiong, and Yang. Most people I interview have a combination of these names. Also, it's interesting to note that nearly half of the Hmong are Christians, and you see several Hmong churches around.

If you've seen the movie Gran Torino, which I highly recommend, you can understand some of the problems Hmong encounter in life here. The author actually wrote it about Minnesota, but it was cheaper to film in Detroit so they changed the story. As you know from an earlier post, most of the movie cast is local.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Awesome Wedding Idea

This is one of the big things on YouTube now, and it has a local connection too.

If you haven't seen the St. Paul wedding video yet, check it out:

To all of the members of my wedding party, be glad I saw this now and now before....

People I've met 4: Best Bartender

This week I got the opportunity to see and interview T.G.I.Friday's National Champion Bartender 5-years running, Brian Zachau.
The Maple Grove restaurant was hoppin', but Brian was keeping up and making moves that would've made Tom Cruise in the movie "Cocktail" a bit jealous. It was impressive to watch, and easy to understand why people come here specifically to watch the bartending show.
Brian got into bartending in college, where else? He's been a competitive bartender for several years since and even runs his own company training other bartenders and providing flair bartenders for weddings and events.
Good Luck Brian in this year's world competition--the US hasn't had a winner since 1998, but Brian has placed 2nd four times...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The People around us 2: Somalis in Minnesota

Here's another installment about diversity in Minnesota...

Did you know the first American suicide bomber came from Minneapolis? He was a Somali-American who blew himself up in Somalia. Headlines this week have been about jihadists recruiting Somali boys from here to go to war in their homeland. So far, three have died and the FBI is investigating a downtown mosque. It's a reoccuring story in the local news. Who would've thought it could all be linked back to Minnesota?

When Dave and I moved to Minneapolis, we couldn't believe we moved into an area with so much diversity. Our apartment complex had many Somali families with cute kids and friendly women. It was different to get used to seeing the women in headdresses, and occasionally a burqa. The first time an elevator opened and I saw a lady in big, black burqa, I literally jumped. I was so embarrassed; it caught me totally off guard. Probably the oddest thing was the women at working at Walmart wearing Walmart-blue headdresses that came down to their waist instead of the typical Walmart vest.

Sometimes a group would come for a program or a tour out at the Landing. They always liked my dress. Since they could only speak very little English, the main point of communication would sometimes be the village well--they had one just like that back in Africa. It has to be one of the most difficult things to go to a foreign country and try to live and learn the language. I can't imagine the frustration.

Somalis fled their homeland to escape civil unrest in the early 1990s. Several settled in the Twin Cities and there's even a section of town called "Little Mogadishu." Right now, Somalis make up the largest African group in Minnesota, and there are several. The African immigrant groups don't necessarily get along with Minnesota African-Americans, which sometimes causes conflicts in neighborhoods and schools. It's a complex situation, and an interesting dynamic.

One of the most interesting thing I learned is the difference in food when coming to America. Somalis eat a diet very low in sugar, and when they come to America, they have great teeth. One woman at a nonprofit told me they have Somali immigrants frequently return sugary boxed cereal because they think it's ludicrous anyone would eat that--and first thing in the morning too! Wonder if they like lutfisk?!

People I've met 3: Money Saving Maven

Meet Carrie Rocha (pronounced Hasha). She has single-handedly changed our grocery shopping outlook, which I will share with you at a later date in a post titled "The Grocery Store Gospel." (All great stories start with a great title, right?)

To sum it up: we pick up free items at the grocery store each week.... from boxes of Cheerios to milk to salad dressing to toothpaste--you should NEVER pay for toothpaste or deodorant and NEVER over a buck for any cereal. You should never buy generic when you can get great deals on name brand. If you watch the sales and use a coupon when an item is at its rock bottom price, then you walk out of the store with stuff completely free. I've even paid only 2-3 bucks for expensive items like name brand washing detergent or dishwashing detergent. Off the top of my head, this week I got a free 6-pack of bottled water at Walmart, 2-free Buitoni pasta, and free Buitoni pesto sauce at the grocery store.
And for you naysayers: I don't clip coupons and I don't go to every store in the area hunting a bargain. AND my pantry is more stocked with food than it ever was AND now I spend less than 50-bucks at the store every week.

I learned all of this from Carrie, who decided a few years back that she wanted to get out of debt, and through common sense, she decided she could do that by one of two ways: increase the family income or decrease the family expenses. She chose the second one, and that started her on a whirlwind of learning how to find deals and save money. Fastforward a few years and she drives a paid-off Lexus, her husband stays at home to take care of the kids, they pay for international vacations up front, and people are coming to Carrie asking for classes and advice. She's amazing, and we've developed our own segment with her called 12-News Money Savers that's become pretty popular... her website:

People I've met 2: Prior Fat Girl

I did a story a few months back on a gal in Brooklyn Park who calls herself the Prior Fat Girl.

And she is. Jen was overweight most of her life, and was even considering surgery when she was in her mid-20s. She and her father went to an informational session about the surgery when she looked around and realized she was the youngest person in the room. She thought, you know, this is my life and it's the only life I'll get. I don't want to live this way in this body.

So she changed her life. Jen goes by the mantra, 'if you want extraordinary results you have to make an extraordinary effort.' It's not brain surgery. It's just eating right and exercise. She told me she used to eat a salad and walk to the mailbox and consider that exercise and healthy living. Jen tried every diet out there. But it wasn't until she discovered that eating right and exercising regularly was the only way to have the body she wanted. In a little over a year, she lost close to 100 pounds and she stills maintains a healthy lifestyle. Jen tells me she has people pass her in the hallway at work and not recognize her.

Jen is an inspiration to alot of people. When a coworker left to move out-of-state, she asked Jen to start a blog to keep up with her weight loss. Jen did: and she gets thousands of hits each month from all over the world. She shares fitness stories about hard workouts and cravings and wanting to slack off all while giving (and receiving) encouragement.

Whenever I don't want to go to the gym (which is pretty regular unless I have new songs on my I-Pod), I think about Jen and her mantra-- if you want extraordinary results, you have to make an extraordinary effort.

People I've met: Fashionista extraordinaire

I keep meaning to start a series of posts about interesting people I've interviewed up here. With that, I mean average people who have neat stories. I generally could care less about interviewing celebs and politicans. They are boring and always have an agenda.

Here's our local fashionista Sally and me at her home in Robbinsdale after our story...I unintentionally set up a random list of girly stories one week as a way to bug my photographers. Local fashion girl, Harry Potter costumes, Staycations....What's up next? Interviewing one of Redbook Magazine's 25 Hottest Husbands of the Year.

Sally started a blog about dressing to suit your figure and she is currently getting more than 42,000 unique hits per month. She's started another website about local boutiques. Plus, she runs a wardrobe consulting business and is just an all around nice person. AND, like most bloggers, she has a day job too to bring home a paycheck. Check out her website:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Kissed by Crunch

Since we didn't have a picture of Crunch kissing me from the Maple Grove parade, our graphics department tried to digitally edit one from another event. It's rather disturbing to know how you can be harassed by graphics. (just kidding D!) Our bloopers (video and audio) live on in infamy around here.

My favorite replay is a phone message we got.... and I won't repeat it on here. But if you are ever hanging out with me, let me tell you the story of the 85-year-old woman who called us and claimed she was a Spanish whore in a former life and while we're at it, we should play more polka music. It's a good one.

This time, Maple Grove

The Maple Grove parade turned out to be a drizzly event, but it was a parade that should've made any local citizen's chest swell with pride. More than 100 floats. Dozens of marching bands. Businesses handing out everything from free burgers to those real, cloth shopping bags.

The thing that makes many of these parades different from any I've ever experienced is the business participation. Tow trucks drive the route showing how much they can haul. Any car with a logo will drive along and throw candy. All the grocery stores march, and any dance studio in town will have their kids marching, jumping, and dancing through the streets of all the area parades. Here, I'm with a senior jazzercise group. Most seniors I know would never jazzercise through the streets--and that's not even counting the rednecks I know.

The potato made it's entry once again.... that's another thing that surprised me. Several of the floats are the same in every parade.

This is the burger cart. Yep, it's a concession stand rolling down the street while the fella cooks the burgers and has runners to take them to people. It was hot in there!

The biggest moment for me actually came when I was attempting to interview Elvis. Instead, Crunch the Timberwolves mascot circled me with his cart and ran over and grabbed my face and laid a big kiss on me. The crowd sure liked it. Then, Crunch ran to his cart and kept driving. Meanwhile, the emcee is yelling "Shannon is speechless. She's been kissed by Crunch and she's speechless! This doesn't happen often folks...." Needless to say, I got alot of ribbing at work over that one. Unfortunately, we don't have any pictures of this.
And then, there's the Royality. Now, I've heard alot of knocking on southerners and Texans for having a pageant for just about every festival possible.... Miss Pine Tree, Miss Redbud Tree, Miss Poke Salad Queen, Miss Tamale, Miss Purple Hull Pea Festival, Miss Toad Suck etc. If there's a vegetable or berry that grows in your state, chances are somewhere there are girls competing viciously for that title and crown. So, some of that knocking is probably needed.

Here, each city chooses girls and boys that are ambassadors. They cut ribbons at new business openings, wear matching outfits, and choreograph their waves. I'm not kidding. The selection is actually a set of interviews and picnics where they meet important city dignitaries. Their primary job is to promote the city in a mountain of parades. Whichever Minnesota town has a Raspberry festival actually had their queen on this big raspberry swing.
Which proves my point: There's hokey in every state..... and just because it's normal to you doesn't mean it is to everyone else.
Maybe it's better to quote my friend Paula in a similar thought: "Everybody is someone else's wierdo."

Keeps life interesting.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

More Shreveport comes to town

It seems a bit ironic for a picture of a photographer to come out so poorly. But this cell phone picture did, and it wasn't taken by a professional photographer anyway.

Dave and I had lunch with a few Shreveport alum, Shane who was a photojournalist at the Shreveport Times and his lovely wife Fran who worked at the NWLA Food Bank. The two are now living a happy life in Tulsa. Fran has family in Minnesota, so we might even get to run into them again. We hope so.

We reminisced about what we miss from Shreveport--the food, Mardi Gras, and the people or friends we left behind....and didn't dwell too much on what we didn't miss. Salut in Edina is fast becoming our go-to spot to meet out-of-town couples. They have the best french fries known to mankind.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Parents On Vacation

Sent from somewhere in Rhode Island on a Blackberry:

Dear Children,

We've spent your inheritance on this yacht and we'll be leaving on a trip around the world as soon as we can figure out how to start it.
Your Parents
PS Please send gas money.

Oh ye misguided...

Somewhere in NYC there are some seriously misguided folks:
Thanks for the picture, Ross!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Lions come to town

The Lions Club has descended upon Minneapolis-St. Paul for their annual convention. There are more than 15-thousand people here, which makes it the largest convention of the year. You can tell there are more people around when you drive downtown in traffic.

I got to go down to see the big parade and cover our local group, the Brooklyn Park Lions Drum & Bugle Corp as they proudly marched between Portugal and Romania. They did great.

The parade went on for 5-6 hours and was pretty spectacular. I would venture to say it's the most impressive thing I've seen so far in the Twin Cities--it really reminds me of the parade of nations during the Olympics. Who knew Nigeria or Pakistan had so many Lions? I was most impressed with the Dutch, who marched the entire way in wooden shoes.

Here are New York State Lions marching--without my favorite Lion, Pa Schwartz. Hmm... seems you passed on a great excuse to come to the Twin Cities? This could've been part of your daily walk! But hey, I picked you up a Convention Pin so you can be the envy of all of your local Lions, so that's okay.
You can have a flag from Pakistan too, if you want. I got that too.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The switch to Apple...

I am now the owner of a Macbook. As an online instructor, I've been watching the laptop sales and promotions for quite a few months as my laptop is a throwback from 2001, which is a dinosaur in technology terms. I've spent hours at coffee shops and libraries making the class work--so my student's excuses of 'my computer went down' never quite flew with me. Find a way.
Dave and I drove back and forth from a big box PC store to Apple on Friday, and we came home with a Macbook Pro. The video editing capabilites ultimately won us over. I was also impressed with the address book that should make Christmas Card labels a snap. (It's the little things, right?) Dave was more impressed with the free I-Pod Touch that came with the education discount, which he commandeered.
On the drive home, I was honestly more nervous than I was on my wedding day. What if we spent that much money on something that we can't use very well? What if it's too hard to use? What if it doesn't last that long? We'll see.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Parade number 2

It's Brooklyn Center's turn for parade # 2 with the Earle Brown Festival and Parade. This day was a scorcher of a day, and of course the entire production and set took place on a black, asphalt parking lot. Talk about hot! I had more than one person ask me if I the heat and humidity reminded me of home. One person wound up passing out.... so for you Southern naysayers, yes, it truly was hot. Don't we look like Charlie's Angels or something here? I had light duty for the day... handing out prizes and helping coordinate.
Here's Jen doing an interview during the parade. This photog, Skylar, runs up and down the route with the reporters. It's a hot job.

I'm not sure how Dustin got the assignment to always drive in the parade. He's a talented photog, and has a brother who is a talented photog at KUSA in Denver.

Here's Lisa with the Grand Marshall...and again in a hot dog stand.

The events crew and production staff were in the coolest place... the production truck.

We have three cams that work the parade and three more that tape the show. Here's the "birdie" shot and our fleet. Next week, two in one week.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

He's good enough, he's smart enough

and doggoneit, he's finally Minnesota's senator.

It's hard to believe Stuart Smalley or Jack Handy or whatever witty SNL character Al Franken played will now be representing Minnesota in Congress. It's been 238 days since election day, and the crowd was more than jubilant today at a Franken rally at the state capitol. Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled to support Franken's 312 vote victory.

In his quest to become a senator,Franken has stayed away from SNL jokes and paraodies during the campaign. I understand, but I think they would've made some great campaign ads. The ads and overall race was pretty nasty, and I think all Minnesotans are glad the race is finally over. He did make a few quick jokes during his speech today, which gives hope that he'll be an interesting politican to watch and interview.