Archive | August, 2019

St. Paul inventor helps save summer and maybe, the planet


St. Paul inventor helps save summer and maybe, the planet

Posted on 11 August 2019 by Tesha Christensen

By Stephanie Fox
It was just a mishap, or so it seemed at the time. But, in the summer of 2008, while boating on Lake Okoboji in Iowa, Alex Orcutt lost a flip-flop. “I was shoving a ski boat off a sandbar into the lake and when I jumped back, the flip-flop was gone,” he recalled.
And then, it happened again, this time when Orcutt was biking. His flip-flop slipped from the bike petal and off his foot.
It could have been a disaster, but it turned out to be fate. He retreated into his Como Ave. basement to work on a design, something quick and easy, that would help keep flip-flops on people’s feet instead of letting the iconic summer shoe fly off into the unknown. His invention was Toe Tethrs, a do-hicky that attaches to both the sandal strap and to the big toe, keeping the flip-flops firmly on the feet.
“With these, you can run great in flip-flops, you can use them in canoes, kayaks. You can wear flip-flops all the time, you don’t need closed sandals,” Orcutt said.

Made in North Minneapolis of recycled materials
Orcott had no real design experience, but in 2018, he became an inventor, awarded a patent, number 10,070,684, for his Toe Tethrs.
“I worked hard trying to find the right material to make them,” he said. “We tried rubber bands and other things but settled on a silicone blend. It doesn’t irritate, it’s durable, flexible and eco-friendly. And now, we have an eco-friendly business. That’s our real mission.”
Soon, he was selling them through his online company, Tethrco. The Toe Tethrs sell for $10 a pair, with 30 percent of the profits from sales going to environmental charities including Ocean Sole, a non-profit company in Kenya that recycles flip-flops and makes them into colorful pieces of art and functional products, available over the Internet.
“More than 40 tons of discarded flip-flops wash on the shores of Kenya every year,” said Orcott. “People gather them and recycle them which helps clean up beaches and gives people jobs.”
Creating the product and the company was exciting, he said, but the patenting process was long and tedious. He reached out to LegalCORPS, which provides free advice to low-income start-ups and inventors in Minnesota.
“Without their help, I wouldn’t have been able to do this,” he said. “I had to submit information and they set me up with legal representation. It was a five-year process, but working with them was a great experience.”
This is Tethrco’s first summer in sales and so far, they’ve sold more than 1,500 of the bright red Toe Tethrs, all made in North Minneapolis out of recycled material. So far, said Orcutt, it’s been all word-of-mouth generating sales. He quit his job as an EMT last August to work on marketing his product and on his real job, being a single father.

‘Labor of love’
His two daughters, 14-year old Lilly and 12-year old Layla, have been working with him since the beginning. They are featured in the company’s online advertising and have become Toe Tethr models, as well as posting product information to their own social media.
“It’s a labor of love – a family affair,” he said.

More shoreline in Minnesota than California, Oregon and Washinton combined
The family connection goes back a couple of generations. Orcott’s grandfather was president of his local Izaak Walton League, one of the earliest national conservation organizations, founded in 1922. His dad did work for the Sierra Club. “I’m a third generation conservationist,” said Orcutt.
“We’re the land of 10,000 Lakes,” he said. “We have more shoreline than California, Oregon and Washington put together – shoreline and waterways that need protection.”
In addition to the Toe Tethrs (in adult and kid’s sizes) and colorfully designed flip-flops, the Tethrco website also features t-shirts, caps and other items displaying the Tethrco logo. Orcutt also started adding a decorative silvery Hamsa charm, a hand-shaped amulet from the Middle East and North Africa, a protective symbol said to bring happiness and luck, designed to be fastened to Toe Tethrs.
Maybe some of that luck will rub off on the new company. Orcott said he’s trying to find a foothold with the outdoor recreation and adventure customer. In the future, Orcott is hoping to expand, to collaborate with brick and mortar stores like Minnesota-based Target.
“I would love to get in there but I’m still learning to navigate that process, learning marketing and sales,” he remarked.
Orcott said he’s hoping that the Tethrco logo will become widely recognized, so that people wearing it will be immediately identified as supporters of conservation, clean water and clean beaches.
“We’re not just in it for profit,” said Orcott. “We’re in it for a purpose. We’re in it supporting recycling and conservation. Taking care of the planet is a no-brainer.”

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Citizens group reducing pollution in Como Lake

Citizens group reducing pollution in Como Lake

Posted on 11 August 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Anyone who has walked or biked around Como Lake this summer has got to wonder, “What is that smell?”
The short answer is decomposing curly-leaf pondweed.
The long answer is more complicated.
At Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD), Water Resource Project Manager Britta Belden described the life cycle of this invasive aquatic species, and why it causes such a problem in Como Lake.
She said, “Curly-leaf pondweed was first observed here in the early 1990s, and it now dominates the aquatic plant eco-system – with nearly 100% coverage by early June. It has done so well because Como Lake is a shallow lake with a maximum depth of 15’. Curly-leaf pondweed starts growing in late fall, from seedlings dropped in June. It continues growing through the winter beneath the ice, which gives it a competitive advantage.”

“When the ice goes out and sunlight hits the water in April, these plants really take off and grow rapidly.”
~ Britta Belden
She continued, “Curly-leaf pondweed forms thick mats of vegetation on the lake surface in the spring, and then quickly dies off in late June. This coincides with peak sunlight and high summer temperatures, providing perfect conditions for rapid decomposition – and that’s what people are smelling.”
Despite continued attempts to improve the water quality of Como Lake, its phosphorous levels are about three times higher than the state standards for shallow lakes. Once the curly-leaf pondweed starts to die, it releases a burst of phosphorous back into the water and, in a predictable cycle, is followed by a major algae bloom.

Phosphorous is not only present in Como Lake because of decomposition, it’s also being transported in runoff to the lake.
To address this problem, CRWD invests in projects and partnerships that reduce nutrients and other pollutants in watershed runoff. In one such partnership, CRWD supports a neighborhood group called the Como Active Citizen Network; their Como Curb Clean-Up is a coordinated effort to remove leaves and other organic material from neighborhood streets for six weeks in the fall.
This program has about 100 participants – all of them committed to improving the water quality of Como Lake through this practice.
Janna Caywood is a founding member of the Como Active Citizen Network, and a Como resident for more than 20 years. She said, “We’re a group of neighbors who care about our nearby lake.
“We’re not the leaf police but we believe that, as property owners, we have the ability to impact our neighborhood positively. By keeping the curbs and gutters clean in front of our houses, we can prevent additional phosphorous from getting into Como Lake through run-off.”

“Many people mistakenly believe that phosphorous in commercial lawn fertilizers is the culprit, but it’s decaying organic matter (leaves and grass clippings) that really throw Como Lake out of balance.”
~ Janna Caywood
Part of the problem is that Como Lake is being asked to do more than it realistically can. Caywood explained that there are no longer any natural tributaries delivering fresh water to the 70 acre lake. She said, “With 22 storm sewers draining into such a small lake, it has essentially become a glorified storm water basin. Yet, because of its location, we expect it to perform as a recreational amenity – and a natural amenity, too.”
Caywood said, “This kind of ‘non-source’ pollution is the hardest to address, because it’s coming from St. Paul, Roseville, and Falcon Heights through the storm water system. We see this as a great challenge for our generation, figuring out how to deal responsibly with the impact of human living on our waters.”
Looking ahead, the Capitol Region Watershed District will begin implementing new management strategies for Como Lake next year. Its 20-year Como Lake Management Plan contains 54 actions designed to improve the health of this much-loved neighborhood gathering spot. To better understand Como Lake both past and present, follow the link below to view a story map developed by the Capitol Region Watershed District. www.capitolregionwd.org/comolake


“Minnesota has a great responsibility for managing its lakes wisely. As a state, we are second only to Alaska in the amount of surface water that we have.”
~ Janna Caywood, Como Active Citizen Network

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August Monitor 48

Pies on the Prairie

Posted on 11 August 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Surprise – there’s Pierce Butler Meadows just before the Snelling Ave. crossing

The Pierce Butler Route is known as a short cut through the Midway and Central neighborhoods of St. Paul. It runs, usually without congestion, all the way from Prior Ave, to Dale St. The surrounding area is mostly industrial, but just before Pierce Butler Route crosses under Snelling Ave. – there’s a surprise.
Pierce Butler Meadows is a small patch of native prairie growing on the southwest corner of that intersection. It starts along Pierce Butler Route as a cattail-lined pool, and gives way to swamp white oak and serviceberry seedlings, interspersed with 1,500 native plants and grasses, rising up the hillside.
Planted in October 2017 by teachers and students from Hamline Elementary, Hamline University, and the Hmong Preparatory Academy, countless Hamline Midway neighbors, and Hamline Midway Coalition staff (HMC), the newly-established Pierce Butler Meadows is in full bloom.
Prairies once stretched across western and southern Minnesota; less than 1% of the Minnesota native prairie remains today.
Prairies are sometimes called upside-down forests because much of the plant and animal life they support is below ground. Many prairie plants have roots five feet deep or more.
Extensive root systems improve the ability of water to infiltrate soil, which reduces runoff. Deep roots decrease erosion by anchoring soil. Prairie plants also store carbon, which keeps the soil healthy.

Attend prairie events
With the help of a partnership grant from the Capitol Region Watershed District, HMC is hosting three events called “Pies on the Prairie” at Pierce Butler Meadows this summer. The dates are Aug. 17, Sept. 21, and Oct. 5 from 10 a.m.-noon.
Each of the Saturday programs will offer different activities. Hear neighbors share their expertise about prairie flowers, prairie birds, bee keeping, water use in a prairie eco-system, and more. All ages are welcome, and the zero-waste event promises PIE. There is no cost to attend, and no registration is needed. Attend one or all of the programs.
HMC’s Melissa Michener said, ”’Pies on the Prairie’ is part of our work to build community engagement through clean water education. This is one of the ways we connect with residents, by showing how we can support cleaner water in the Hamline Midway neighborhood.”
For their ongoing efforts at the Pierce Butler Meadows, HMC received a Watershed Project Award from the Capitol Region Watershed District. The award recognizes a project that demonstrates excellence in protecting, managing, and improving local water resources within the watershed. The Pierce Butler Meadows came out of more than a decade of community interest in and activism on the site. Without the dedication of HMC’s Environment Committee and resident Steve Mitrione, the project would not have happened.
Contact Melissa Michener at Hamline Midway Coalition with questions about “Pies on the Prairie.”(Melissa@hmc.org) There will be parking on nearby Taylor Ave., and volunteers to help at the crossing on the west side of Snelling Ave.

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Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival coming to town

Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival coming to town

Posted on 11 August 2019 by Tesha Christensen

For eight days in September, St. Paul’s Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ), and partner Burlesque of North America, will host something that has never been done before in Minnesota.
The Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival is a week-long event that will showcase the creation of 12 large outdoor murals, as well as community partner events within the CEZ.
The murals will be produced, more or less, on the spot. While there is no connecting theme between the 12 murals, the content will be “family friendly.”
The CEZ is a coalition of organizations, businesses and individuals working together to make its neighborhood a destination for creative enterprise. This cultural hub is centered around Raymond and University avenues, with its 300+ artist studios and maker spaces extending into the neighborhood in all directions.
Chroma Zone Music & Art Festival board chair Catherine Reid Day, said, “Mural-making has become a global movement because it generates so much community engagement. This kind of large scale public art creates a strong dialogue between the artist and the community. And it gives everyone a chance to live with art nearby.”
Just under 100 mural artists submitted proposals for the competition. The 12 winners were announced at the Urban Growler Brewing Company on June 18, with city officials, community members, event hosts, and sponsors in the audience. Half of the finalists are from the Twin Cities; the others are from CA, NY, and as far away as Norway and Brazil.
Twelve commercial buildings have been selected as mural sites.
Reid Day said, “The Chroma Zone Festival team approached owners of properties we felt would make great canvases – based on scale and visibility.” The mural locations will be announced once all of the details have been finalized. The majority of the properties are between Hwy 280 and Vandalia St.
Festival dates are Sept. 7-14, with artists working on different sites each day. A full schedule of events can be found at www.chromazone.net closer to the festival start.
In addition to the creation of 12 murals, Chroma Zone Mural & Art Festival will feature a week of programming throughout the CEZ. Events will include two nights of the Little Mekong Night Market, open studios, guided mural tours, Chromo Zone-themed beers available at CEZ breweries, and much more.
According to Reid Day, “The idea for a mural festival germinated in the hearts of Theresa Sweetland and Jack Becker (of Forecast Public Arts) years ago. We knew these festivals were happening in many American cities: Denver, Sacramento, Detroit, and Miami, to name a few.
“Something just clicked for me last year, and I said, ‘Let’s do it!’ Two lead donations came rather quickly, and we’ve now met our fundraising goal. Some of our fantastic sponsors include Dual Citizen Brewing Co., Wycliff, Platform Apartments, St. Paul Star Program, Mark Simonsen, Motley, Exeter, NewStudio Architecture, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, Vandalia Tower, All Energy Solar, Xcel Energy, First & First, and Stahl Construction.”
This event is being offered to the community free of charge. Reid Day hopes it will become an annual event, because, she said, “We believe that art fosters a sense of peace and connection within communities.”

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Happy centennial, Grotto House

Posted on 11 August 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Seven years to the day they bought the house at 1012 Grotto St., Emily and Jesse and their 10-pound Chihuahua Buster Busta held a party.
Their home – which they lovingly call the Grotto House – is 100 years old.
And that’s something to celebrate.

Know where you’re coming from
The Bustas bought the house on July 27, six weeks before they wed in 2012.
They met at age 14 while growing up in the east metro, graduated from Tartan High in Oakdale in 2007, and started dating in 2008. They attended school in St. Paul (he at Hamline Law School and she at Bethel University), and decided they wanted to stay in the city.

Emily fostered a love of old houses while growing up inside an 1888-era home in Highwood Hills by Pigs Eye Lake.
“You need to know where you’re coming from to know where you’re going,” Emily stated.
“Emily turned me on to old houses and I love them now,” remarked Jesse.
His dad, Brent Katzemmaier, who grew up near Como Lake, found the foreclosure along Grotto St. They had looked through about five houses before touring this one, and had been looking for an affordable price as Jesse was still in school.
“We saw it and we knew,” Emily recalled.
“I love the character – it’s not a cookie cutter [house],” observed Emily. “No one else has something like this. It’s cozy and not huge.”
They’re not entirely sure of the size of the two-story house, as written reports vary from 900 to 1,200 square feet. There’s an unfinished basement, with main level living room, kitchen, dining room, small bedroom/study and mud room, and two bedrooms with ample walk-in closets and a bathroom upstairs.
The purchase required patience, as the process with the bank took seven months. At one point, they discovered water pooled on the dining room floor. A leak from the second story bathroom trickled down and damaged the ceiling, wall and floor in their dining room. It cost $5,000 to fix, but was covered by the bank.
One of their first steps was gutting and redoing the one bathroom in the house. They worked to match the house’s period and style, but did add the convenience of a heated floor.
Upstairs windows were replaced with new wooden Pella ones. New lights resemble antique ones.
“We tried our hardest to keep original features and the character of the house,” said Jesse.
They ripped the carpet and asbestos tile off the upstairs floors to reveal oak beneath, which they refinished. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to remove the carpet and tile in the living room to reveal the wood there so they settled for new carpet. But just in time for the Centennial, they redid the fir floors in the main level bedroom that had been added to the house at a later time.
“Otherwise it was in pretty good shape,” said Jesse.
The original buffet and plate rail in the dining room stayed, and they didn’t need to make changes to the kitchen.

A big move in 1966
A home inspector clued them in on the fact that their 1919 house had a cinder block foundation, which meant it hadn’t always been at 1012 Grotto.
Last fall they began researching the history of their home’s move. They checked out property tax records, and learned it had been moved from Snelling and Randolph in 1966, and the property transitioned from residential to commercial. It used to sit at what is now the busy intersection of Snelling and University at 475 S. Snelling. The Bustas don’t know what was at 1012 Grotto before their house was moved in.
They do know that the woman, Mary Ann Kester, who moved their home also moved in the house directly south of them. It had originally been at 1510 St. Clair.
From the building permit, they discovered that the house cost $3,000 to construct. Another document from the time of the move showed costs at $1,200 was for concrete block, $2,000 for the movers, $750 for electric, and $1,000 for the plumbers.
Since they bought the house for $88,000, the property value has doubled. “We were in the right place at the right time,” said Emily.

A starter home for many
“I like knowing who came before us in the house,” stated Jesse.
They’re learned that their house has mostly been a starter home for the families that came before them.
Property tax records through the house’s move in the 1940s show that the longest anyone lived at 1012 Grotto was twelve years. “We appear to be the eighth family that has lived here at this site,” said Jesse. They do not have the titles from the time the house was on Snelling Ave.
It was public housing for 13 years after Kester sold the house to the St. Paul Urban Housing and Redevelopment Authority for $1 in 1969.
About five years ago, a car stopped and a woman told them she grew up in their house in the 1970s. She left before they could get any more details. The Bustas hope to learn more about the history of their house, and hope past residents share information with them.

‘They’re not as scary as you think’
Jesse now works for Progressive Insurance in New Brighton, and Emily recently took a job with the state of Minnesota’s education office at Bandana Square. They’ve sold their second car, and Emily enjoys biking to work.
They’re planning to become the longest living family at this address.
“We hope people can grow an appreciation for old houses and keep them in the neighborhood,” said Jesse. “And keep old churches too,” Emily added.
“They’re not as scary as you think they are.”
“They definitely take more work to maintain but it’s worth it in the end,” said Jesse. “The charm wins out.”
~ Contact the editor via email at tesha@MonitorSaintPaul.com.

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