Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Christmas tree that would make Charlie Brown proud December 19, 2014

IT’S NOT QUITE a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. But close, my husband assessed.

Christmas tree vendor Ken Mueller helps my husband, Randy, load our old-fashioned Christmas tree into our van.

Christmas tree vendor Ken Mueller helps my husband, Randy, load our old-fashioned Christmas tree into our van.

He’s correct and I’m beyond delighted with our purchase this year of an old-fashioned untrimmed Christmas tree grown on a dairy farm near Duluth.

Our short-needled tree resembles the two on the left. It's perfect.

Our short-needled tree resembles the two on the left. It’s perfect.

The short, scrubby tree with the unbalanced shape and sparse branches reminds me of the Christmas trees which topped one end of our grey Formica kitchen table in the cramped farmhouse where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota during the 1950s and 1960s.

That’s the type of tree I’ve always wanted in my adulthood, but never found until this year. Short and beautiful, bedecked in tinsel and decorated with ornaments like a wax lamb, never hung too close to a holiday light, and the glittery shimmer of a silver church with red windows. That’s my tree memory.

Even the sign is down-home appealing.

Even the sign is down-home appealing.

All these decades living in Faribault, I could have had this type of imperfect tree, if only I’d paused to look.

Ken leases land from the Kuntze family for his seasonal tree lot.

Ken leases land from the Kuntze family for his seasonal tree lot.

Since 1988, Ken Mueller has been selling old-fashioned trees on a leased lot on the north edge of Faribault, just down the road from the Rice County Historical Society and across the street from a liquor store and gas station. He remembers his wife selling trees, baby strapped to back. His daughter is 26 now.

You'll find trees in varying  sizes at Ken's lot.

You’ll find trees in varying sizes at Ken’s lot. That’s the one we chose on the right.

Countless years I’ve passed the Kuntze Christmas Tree Lot, noticing the scraggly trees leaning against wood frames and, in the evening, spotlighted by glaring light bulbs. And I just passed right by.

I didn't ask when these trees were cut. But ours is not all dry with needles shedding.

I didn’t ask when these trees were cut. But ours is not all dry with needles shedding.

Mueller’s trees are hauled down from Duluth to peddle to customers like me desiring a nature-shaped tree that is anything but Christmas card perfect. He sells nearly 300.

Our tree cost $12, well, $15 if you include the $3 tip my husband gave Ken. Not only perfect, but Charlie Brown affordable.

SO WHAT’S YOUR IDEA of a “perfect” tree? Does it match mine, or does it look something like these, photographed at Farmer Seed and Nursery, where we began our quest and usually buy our Christmas tree (but didn’t this year because of the cost):

There are plenty of trees to choose from inside and outside the historic Farmer Seed and Nursery.

There are plenty of trees to choose from inside and outside the historic Farmer Seed and Nursery.

Tools of the tree selling trade.

Tools of the tree selling trade.

Farmer Seed offers a wide assortment of flocked trees in the most unusual hues.

Farmer Seed offers a wide assortment of flocked trees.

I love exploring the nooks and crannies of the historic Farmer Seed and Nursery as much as viewing the tree offerings. The flocked trees are up a ramp in a maze of rooms with

I love exploring the nooks and crannies of the historic Farmer Seed and Nursery as much as viewing the tree offerings. The flocked trees are up a ramp in a maze of rooms with wood floors and beautiful, sturdy beams. There’s a certain rustic charm in this complex building.

Flocked trees come in an assortment of hues, even orange.

Flocked trees come in an assortment of hues, even orange.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’m taking you Christmas tree shopping tomorrow December 18, 2014

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Christmas tree sign

So grab your winter coat, cap and mittens and slip on your boots, unless, of course, you live in a warm weather state unlike Minnesota.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Inn opens in historic building at Shattuck-St. Mary’s December 17, 2014

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FOR SOME FORTY YEARS the oldest building on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a prestigious private college prep school on Faribault’s east side, stood empty.

BUILT: The original part of the building was constructed in 1871 as the library for Seabury Divinity School. When the school relocated, the building was sold to Shattuck School and a small wing was added to the east. The building became Phelps Cottage, serving as a boys' dormitory. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary's School.

YESTERDAY: The original part of this building was constructed in 1871 as the library for Seabury Divinity School. When the divinity school relocated, the building was sold to Shattuck School and a small wing was added to the east. The building became Phelps Cottage, serving as a boys’ dormitory. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.

The Inn at Shattuck St. Mary's, a conference/retreat center and hotel, opened on Friday.

TODAY: The Inn at Shattuck St. Mary’s, a conference/retreat center, banquet/reception facility and hotel, opened on Friday.

But, on Friday, the stunning stone and stuccoed building, with a section dating back to 1871 and edging a wooded ravine, opened to the public as The Inn at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

The front desk and lobby presents an inviting welcome.

The front desk and lobby present an inviting welcome.

Saturday afternoon I toured The Inn during the school’s annual Campus Christmas Walk and spoke briefly with David Connelly (former manager of an Owatonna restaurant), who’s genuinely excited to take on the challenge of managing what he terms “a historically modern retreat get-away.”

One of several guest rooms open during the public tour.

One of several guest rooms, with modern, clean lines, open during the public tour

That seems an accurate description for this one-time library, then boys’ dormitory and infirmary now transformed via renovation and an approximate 10,000 square foot addition into a complex with 12 guest rooms, meeting/conference rooms and banquet/reception space. The Inn includes a full catering kitchen. It also serves as a retreat center for the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, which partnered with Shattuck on the project.

Old flows into new as shown here at The Inn entry.

Old flows into new as shown here at The Inn entry.

From the exterior, The Inn, vacated in the early 1970s (except for feral cats), presents a timeless European style that fits this aged campus. Arched windows and steep, peaked roofs and stone prevail.

Detailed close-up of the old portion of the building flowing into new.

Detailed close-up of the oldest portion of the building.

In the early 1920s, a wing was enlarged and covered with stucco. It became the Phelps Infirmary. The infirmary opened just in time for an outbreak of scarlet fever. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary's School.

In the early 1920s, a wing was enlarged and covered with stucco. It became the Phelps Infirmary. The infirmary opened just in time for an outbreak of scarlet fever. It remained open into the early 1970s. Phelps was last used in 2006 as a Halloween haunted house. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.

It’s a beautiful structure which seamlessly blends old with new, as it should given the oldest section is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Church style windows add Old World charm to this guest room in the old part of The Inn.

Church style windows add Old World charm to this guest room in the oldest part of The Inn.

The original staircase.

The original staircase.

The breakfast area, just off a conference room and the lobby.

The breakfast area, just off a conference room and the lobby, has a definitive modern feel.

Inside you will find, as Manager Connelly says, a thoroughly modern facility with all of the amenities you would expect. Touches of the past remain, though, in sections of exposed stone, in those arched windows and in the original stairway from main to second floor, although I suspect that the wood was not painted white back in the day.

A maze of hallways, some featuring stone, lead to guest rooms.

A maze of hallways, some featuring stone, lead to guest rooms.

Hallways wind to guest rooms in a deliberate way that definitely makes this place feel more inn-like than hotel.

Decor throughout The Inn features earthy shades of green and brown.

Decor throughout The Inn features soothing earthy shades of green and brown.

Muted green and brown hues complement the natural setting of The Inn on the wooded west edge of the campus.

In a sectioned off meeting space, windows showcase the woods.

In a sectioned off meeting space, windows showcase the woods.

Banks of floor-to-ceiling windows in the meeting/reception spaces and a spacious woods-side deck and patio showcase the outdoors.

The opening of The Inn seems a smart move on Shattuck’s part. Many couples are married in the historic The Chapel of the Good Shepherd, just a short walk away. Parents from all over the world visit their children at the school. And top-notch hockey teams (think NHL feeder school) draw out-of-town fans to games.

The lobby and entry, simply and beautifully decorated for the holiday.

The lobby and entry, simply and beautifully decorated for the holidays.

On opening day Friday, The Inn guest rooms were three-fourths full, Manager Connelly says. And on Saturday, during the Campus Christmas Walk, visitors seemed duly impressed with the newest old addition to Faribault’s lodging and banquet/meeting facility options.

A touch of Christmas outside the front entry.

A touch of Christmas class outside the front entry.

FYI: Click here for more information on The Inn at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Room rates range from $110 – $150 Sunday – Thursday and from $140 – $180 on Fridays and Saturdays.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Vintage photos are courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and are published here with permission.

 

Here comes Santa Claus & his horses December 16, 2014

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IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK  a lot like Christmas…

Free horse-drawn wagon rides were offered around downtown Faribault Saturday afternoon. Here the wagon, with Santa aboard, passes The Depot Bar and Grill.

Free horse-drawn wagon rides were offered around downtown Faribault Saturday afternoon. Here the wagon, with Santa aboard, passes The Depot Bar and Grill.

with a one-horse two-horse open sleigh wagon winding around and through historic downtown Faribault.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sharing the Christmas spirit, Shattuck-St. Mary’s style December 15, 2014

SATURDAY DIDN’T LOOK or feel a lot like Christmas here in Southern Minnesota. Snow melting. Temps in the 40s or near 50. Beautiful weather for December, except for the lack of sunshine until late afternoon.

Inside Shumway Hall, a sign welcomes visitors to the annual Campus Christmas Walk.

Inside Shumway Hall, a sign welcomes visitors to the annual Campus Christmas Walk.

But on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a holiday mood prevailed during the private prep school’s 12th annual Campus Christmas Walk, a gift to the Faribault community.

Heavy wood doors dominate the entry to Shumway Hall.

Heavy wood doors dominate the entry to Shumway Hall.

My husband and I attended “Winter Chronicles,” the fabulous figure skating show; walked the wide hallways of historic Shumway Hall

Impressive Shumway Hall.

Impressive Shumway Hall.

Plates of sweet treats awaited visitors.

Plates of sweet treats awaited visitors.

Kids worked on holiday crafts in the dining hall.

Kids worked on holiday crafts in the dining hall.

Colorful Christmas ornaments to craft.

Colorful Christmas ornaments to craft.

to the dining room for sweet treats and cider/hot chocolate;

The Inn at Shattuck St. Mary's, a conference/retreat center and hotel, opened on Friday.

The Inn at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a conference/retreat center and hotel, opened on Friday. Watch for an upcoming post tour of The Inn.

One boy headed for a treat after visiting Santa while another raced toward Santa's open arms at The Inn.

One boy headed for a treat after visiting Santa while another raced toward Santa’s open arms.

toured the just-opened The Inn at Shattuck-St. Mary’s where Santa proved the most popular guest;

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

and then popped into the old stone chapel.

Wreaths aplenty, including these on the entry to Shumway Hall, decorated the campus.

Wreaths aplenty, including these on the entry to Shumway Hall, decorate the campus.

If time had allowed, we also would have taken in the Christmas Performing Arts Showcase. Next year.

This ornate stairway stands just outside the dining hall.

The ornate stairway  just outside the dining hall.

As an appreciator of historic buildings which stand strong in stone and dark wood and sturdiness, I truly enjoy this once-a-year opportunity to tour Shattuck.

The Shattuck-St. Mary's campus features beautiful stone buildings constructed in the 1800s.

The Shattuck-St. Mary’s campus features beautiful stone buildings constructed in the 1800s.

Every time I enter this campus, I feel like I’m at some Ivy League college. Not that I’ve ever been to a Harvard or Yale. I can only imagine. Shattuck has that feel of age and strength and wealth.

A sign on Shumway Hall notes its centennial anniversary in 1958.

A sign on Shumway Hall notes Shattuck’s centennial anniversary in 1958.

Of course, it’s more. Much more. Like a school that produces great hockey players and draws students to my Minnesota community from all over the world.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Moody St. Paul December 12, 2014

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GREY DRIFTED OVER THE CITY, layering an eerie mood over downtown St. Paul on a late November Saturday afternoon.

 

St. Paul skyline 1

 

The temp had warmed to hurry from your car to building without a coat warmth as my husband, eldest daughter, son-in-law and I exited the Minnesota History Center.

 

St. Paul skyline 2

 

As we aimed toward the parking lot facing the St. Paul skyline, double church spires drew my eye. So did the red umbrella marking Travelers Insurance. And because I do not know this city well, I could not identify the other buildings in my view except Catholic Charities, marked as such.

 

St. Paul skyline 3

 

But that mattered not, for in that moment angles and fog and mood mingled into a scene worth photographing.

The writer in me was already formulating the plot for a Capitol city mystery, inspired perhaps by the Nancy Drew board game spied inside the History Center.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Toy stories at the Minnesota History Center December 11, 2014

TOY: Object for a child to play with.

 

Toys, sign and Twister

 

If you’re a Baby Boomer, that object may have been Tinker Toys or Lincoln Logs, anything space or Western related, a baby doll or Barbie or perhaps a troll. How about a Tonka truck? Twister or Cootie or Candy Land, anyone?

 

Toys, promo on wall

 

The Minnesota History Center’s “TOYS of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s” is a skip down memory lane for my generation. A recent tour of the exhibit, which runs through January 4, 2015, skipped joy into my heart as I spotted toys I hadn’t thought about in years. Sometimes it’s fun simply to forget about today and remember the carefree days of youth. The days of hopscotch and jacks and stick horses and…

Outdoor toys and a play area are part of the exhibit.

Outdoor toys and a play area are part of the exhibit.

I didn’t see a jump rope, though, but perhaps missed it.

Oh, the hours sitting cross-legged with Tinker Toys scattered across the floor, attempting to construct a Ferris Wheel.

 

Toys, Cootie

 

Oh, the anticipation of rolling a six on the die to insert the last of six legs into a Cootie’s body.

Oh, the tears that raged when I discovered my oldest brother had punched in the boobs of my new bridal doll.

Oh, the gratitude to my friend Robin for gifting me with a mini pink-haired troll at my ninth birthday party. It was the only troll or childhood birthday party I would ever have.

Toys, Spirograph

Some artsy favorites like Spirograph, Lite Brite and making bugs from goop.

 

Oh, the delight in creating kaleidoscopic designs with Spirograph’s pens and plastic shapes.

A museum visitor checks out the 1960s exhibit.

A museum visitor checks out the 1960s exhibit.

Memories rolled in waves as I perused the showcased toys. Some I had as a child; many I did not.

In the '50s section of the exhibit, a Christmas tree with coveted toys of the decade.

In the ’50s section of the exhibit, a Christmas tree with coveted toys of the decade.

I remember each December paging through the Sears Christmas catalog (AKA “Wish Book”) that arrived in our rural southwestern Minnesota mailbox, wishing for so much, knowing in my deepest desires that I would never get the Pogo stick I coveted nor the doll that cried with the pull of a string or a new bicycle (mine came from the junkyard).

Space toys were big in the 1960s and my oldest brother had a rocket.

Space toys were big in the 1960s and my oldest brother had a rocket.

I would receive what my parents could afford and I expect they sacrificed much even for that.

Toys strewn across the floor in a play area of the 1970s part of the exhibit.

Toys strewn across the floor in a play area of the 1970s part of the exhibit.

Looking back, that inability to give me and my siblings a pile of toys was a gift in itself. Sure, I wanted the hottest new toy. That’s normal thinking for a kid who doesn’t understand family finances or a parent’s thoughts on curbing greed.

I remember life without TV and our first television, in black and white. And Mr. Potato Head, a popular toy back in the day.

I remember life without TV and our first television, black and white. And Mr. Potato Head, a popular toy back in the day.

Because of my upbringing, I have never focused on material things.

Anything Western related was especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Here you see the Western influence in furniture.

Anything Western related was especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Here you see the Western influence in furniture. My siblings and I spent countless hours riding our stick horses through the grove and, in the winter, around the house.

Yes, toys are fun to get and give, especially those that encourage creativity and imaginative play and don’t require batteries.

I cherish the blessings of family and home more than anything. I spotted this needlework in the 1970s portion of the exhibit.

I cherish the blessings of family and home more than anything. I spotted this needlework in the 1970s portion of the exhibit.

But it is family that I cherish most. And when I toured the History Center’s toy and other exhibits, I did so with my husband, eldest daughter and son-in-law. Nothing skips joy into my heart like being with those I love.

As we left the museum, we voted for our favorite Minnesota made toy. My daughter and I voted for Cootie. Our husbands chose Tonka.

As we left the museum, we voted for our favorite Minnesota made toy. My daughter and I voted for Cootie. Our husbands chose the Tonka truck.

FYI: For information on “TOYS of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” click here. Just a little heads up: This exhibit was packed on a Saturday afternoon. I’d advise visiting this St. Paul museum on a weekday, especially if you want an opportunity to participate in the interactive parts of exhibits.

BONUS PHOTOS:

My son-in-law noted, as we toured the 1970s part of the exhibit, that toys began to reflect social issues such as being environmentally conscious.

My son-in-law noted, as we toured the 1970s part of the exhibit, that toys began to reflect social issues such as being environmentally conscious.

A 1960s living room.

A 1960s living room.

Never saw this cartoon and I'm glad I did. Audrey carrying a gun? Really.

I didn’t grow up on the Little Audrey cartoon and I’m glad I didn’t. Really, a little girl carrying a gun?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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