Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Christmas trees past December 23, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:16 PM
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Christmas tree lot in Faribault

FOR MANY A HOLIDAY SEASON, this unpretentious Christmas tree lot has operated at the intersection of busy Second Avenue Northwest and Minnesota Highway 3 near the edge of Faribault.

I’ve never shopped for a tree here. But, one of these holiday seasons, instead of passing by, I need to stop and ask a few questions, take a few photos, learn the history of this place and perhaps pick out a tree.

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo.  That's me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

The lot reminds me of childhood Christmases, when my family would choose a short-in-stature, short-needled Christmas tree at the local grocery store.

To this day, I prefer a Charlie Brown type tree to one that’s tall, full and perfectly-branched.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo essay: Blessings abound at Community Christmas Dinner in Faribault December 16, 2013

Be present at our table, Lord, be here and everywhere adored, These mercies bless, and grant that we may feast in fellowship with Thee.

Guests filed through the serving line at the free Community Christmas dinner.

Guests file through the serving line at the free Community Christmas dinner.

PERHAPS THEY NOTICED the words above the church basement kitchen window, perhaps they didn’t. But the hundreds of diners who filed through the serving line at the annual Community Christmas Dinner at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault on Sunday, were blessed…

Christmas dinner, servers

…by the men and women and youth who served them

Christmas dinner, plated food

a delicious meal

Christmas dinner, Mike and Sue

in the wonderful company of folks like Mike and Sue, high school sweethearts who met at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind in Faribault and who have been married nearly 31 years.

Christmas dinner, chopping meat note

Diners were blessed by organized volunteers who leave detailed notes so that this dinner flows seemingly flawlessly.

Christmas dinner, kitchen crew

They were blessed, too, with a hardworking kitchen crew that works behind the scenes preparing food, washing dishes and kettles, etc.,

Christmas dinner, apron

and by team members with a sense of humor (as written on this volunteer’s apron).

Christmas dinner, peace on earth banner

Uplifting basement banners offer words of blessing.

Christmas dinner, cake directions

Sweet blessings come in cakes baked, per these special instructions and brought to the church basement,

Christmas dinner, frosting cake

and then frosted with whipped topping and sprinkled with colored sugar,

Christmas dinner, Madeline with cake

before Madeline and others serve the Christmas cake, the same dessert that’s served every year at the Christmas dinner.

Christmas dinner, diners

Blessings come in the company of others in the warmth of this church basement on a cold December day in Minnesota.

Christmas dinner, women waiting after

These waiting women were blessed, too, by a driver bringing the vehicle close to the door for their ride home.

Christmas dinner, church exterior

The members of the historic 1915 Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church

Christmas dinner, sign

bless the community of Faribault each December by opening church doors for the annual Community Christmas Dinner.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Faribault: The blessings of a Community Christmas Dinner December 13, 2013

One of the principal rules of religion is to lose no occasion of serving God. And, since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbor; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us.–  John Wesley, co-founder of the Methodist movement

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner.

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the 2012 free Community Christmas Dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IT’S NOT LIKE I NEED a free meal. There’s plenty of food in my cupboards, refrigerator and freezer.

But, for the past several years, I’ve eaten at the Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault, Community Christmas Dinner.

For me, dining in the basement of this 1915 church just weeks before Christmas is about being part of my community—connecting with friends and strangers in the spirit of neighborliness and holiday good will.

A sampling of the volunteer crew it takes to put on the Christmas dinner.

A sampling of the volunteer crew which puts on the Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

There’s something about partaking in a community meal, prepared and served by a crew of dedicated volunteers, that makes me feel embraced and cherished.

My meal, minus the cranberries, bread and cake which were also served.

My meal, minus the cranberries, bread and cake which were also served. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

I appreciate the smiles of servers dishing turkey and meatballs, mashed potatoes with gravy and green beans onto hefty plates that have graced this church basement through many an occasion. In my plate, I feel the weight of grief and joy, of comfort and celebration.

Volunteers expected to serve around 225 diners at the free Community Christmas Dinner. A free will offering could be given.

Volunteers served around 225 diners at the free Community Christmas Dinner in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

In the closeness of back-to-back folding chairs pulled to tables draped with red and green plastic tablecloths and topped with festive poinsettias, I engage in warm conversation.

It’s all about connecting here, through words and food.

The din of a church basement is unequaled—rise and fall of voices, clatter of dishes and kettles, occasional outbursts of laughter.

To be there nourishes more than my body. This Community Christmas Dinner also feeds my soul and reaffirms for me that I am blessed to call Faribault home.

And another worker handed out Christmas cake.

The meal always ends with the serving of Christmas cake.

FYI: The Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Community Christmas Dinner will be served from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Sunday, December 15, in the church basement at 219 Fourth Avenue Northwest, Faribault. Take-out meals will be available between 10:15 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.

Free will offerings are accepted with those donations going back to the community.

To read my post about last year’s dinner, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Believing in the magic of Santa and of community theatre December 11, 2013

ALTHOUGH I’VE TRAVELED TO NEW YORK, albeit only once and in the late 1970s, I’ve never been to Macy’s.

I’ve watched the Macy’s Day parade, though, on television and this year heard a brief first person account from my 19-year-old son. He attends college in the Boston area and spent his Thanksgiving break in the Big Apple.

The historic Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault.

The historic Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault.

Saturday evening, thanks to the Paradise Community Theatre’s production of Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical, I visited the aforementioned New York department store and watched (imaginatively speaking) a portion of the parade.

Plus I was swept into the holiday spirit by songs such as “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and by the acting of 31 gifted performers. The cast includes a lot of dedicated young actors and actresses who bring abundant energy and talent to the stage.

With the exception of a cold theater (due to furnace problems), a not-so-good seat (I waited too long to reserve my ticket), and occasional difficulty hearing the singers above the orchestra, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance.

Malia Hunt as Susan Walker and Jerry Fox as Kris Kringle. Photo by Betsy Cole Photography and courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

Malia Hunt as Susan Walker and Jerry Fox as Kris Kringle. Photo by Betsy Cole Photography and courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

This classic Christmas story, which was unfamiliar to me (I know, I know), thrusts you right into the magic of the holiday season. Do you believe in Santa Claus? Do you believe in love? You will after viewing this splendid performance of Miracle on 34th Street in which Kris Kringle claims that he truly is Santa Claus. Northfield resident Jerry Fox portrays as convincing of a Santa Claus as you’ll ever see, both in appearance and demeanor.

And adorable 10-year-old Malia Hunt of Faribault exudes absolute confidence in her main character role as Susan Walker, the little girl who wants a father for Christmas, along with a farmhouse, a swing in the backyard and a cow.

The sets are constantly changing in the performance. This set shows the Macy's Department Store desk of Doris Walker (Sydney Place-Sallstrom), left, and Doris and Susan Walker's apartment, center stage.

The sets are constantly changing in the performance. This set shows the Macy’s Department Store desk of Doris Walker (Sydney Place-Sallstrom), left, and Doris and Susan Walker’s apartment, center stage.

My favorite line in the entire show comes from Jackson Hemann of Medford, who plays Thomas Mara, Jr., the young son of a New York district attorney determined to prove Kris Kringle is not Santa.

When Kringle’s attorney, Fred Gaily (Mickey Morstad), asks Thomas why he believes in Santa, the young boy replies: “My mommy told me so.”

Ah, to possess such child-like faith.

“Faith,” Kris Kringle declares during the performance, “is believing in something when your common sense tells you not to.”

An artistic interpretation of Miracle on 34th Street graces a front window at the Paradise Center for the Arts, which reflects some of downtown Faribault's historic buildings.

An artistic interpretation of Miracle on 34th Street graces a front window at the Paradise Center for the Arts with some of downtown Faribault’s historic buildings reflected on the glass.

When the show ended at 10 p.m., children clustered around Fox. Don’t try telling them he isn’t really Santa Claus.

They believe in the magic of Santa Claus, just like I believe in the magic of theatre to transport me from Central Avenue in Faribault, Minnesota, to 34th Street in New York City.

FYI: Additional performances of Miracle on 34th Street are set for 7:30 p.m. this Thursday – Saturday, December 12 – 14, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 15, at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault. Click here for more information. As of early Tuesday afternoon, only limited seating remained for the Friday and Saturday shows with the Sunday afternoon performance nearly sold out.

My husband and I attended Miracle on 34th Street compliments of an event hosted by South Rice County Chapter of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. This did not influence my decision to review the performance nor the content of my review.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo of Jerry Fox and Malia Hunt by Betsy Cole Photography and courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

How are the fish biting on Central? December 10, 2013

Pawn Minnesota often displays merchandise, including this fish house, outside its downtown Faribault store.

Pawn Minnesota often displays merchandise, like the red fish house, outside its downtown Faribault store.

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY you spot a fish house positioned on a street corner in an historic business district.

But then this is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and home to lots of fishing enthusiasts who can’t wait for lakes to freeze thick enough for ice fishing. Yes, in Minnesota we do walk and drive onto frozen lakes to fish.

Outdoor merchandising...

Outdoor seasonal merchandising…

That said, Pawn Minnesota likely grabbed the attention of shoppers with the Quickfish 3 pop-up portable fish house set up outside the business at 230 Central Avenue in downtown Faribault Saturday afternoon.

To make this even more noteworthy, the pawn shop is housed in the former Poirier Drug Store featured in the 1993 movie Grumpy Old Men. In that film, co-stars and ice fishermen Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon visit the then old-fashioned pharmacy.

In an ironic twist, the now-closed Dandelet Jewelry across the street was converted into a pawn shop for the movie. And now there’s a real pawn shop in what was once the drugstore.

If this sounds a bit confusing, consider also that Matthau and Lemmon ice fished in Grumpy Old Men. Thus the fish house erected outside the former drugstore seems especially fitting.

Minnesota weather appropriate merchandise outside the pawn shop.

Minnesota weather appropriate merchandise showcased in historic downtown Faribault.

That’s how my thoughts wandered when I spied that fish house on the corner with two snowblowers parked next to it. Now if you tell me the fish are biting there…

FYI: If you think my brain cells are frozen, then click here to read about the annual Grumpy Old Men Festival set for February in Wabasha. The fest includes, among other activities, an ice fishing contest and an “Ice shacks n’ Plaid Parade.”

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My joyful experience ringing bells for the Salvation Army on a bitterly cold Minnesota day December 9, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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SNUGGED IN A FLANNEL SHIRT and jeans, layered under my husband’s insulated coveralls and sweatshirt, and with wool socks, insulated winter boots and mittens covering my extremities and a festive hat adding a holiday flair, I reported to my post at noon Saturday to ring bells for the Salvation Army.

Randy snapped this photo of me upon our return home from ringing bells. One donor suggested we receive "hazard pay" for ringing on such a bitterly cold day. There's no pay; this is a volunteer opportunity.

Randy snapped this photo of me upon our return home. One donor joked that we should receive “hazard pay” for ringing bells on such a bitterly cold day. This was a volunteer “job.”

The temperature hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) in Faribault as I tied on my red apron, secured a scarf around my neck (I would add a second later) and took over bell ringing duties from my friend Barb. My husband, Randy, replaced her husband, Gary.

The temperature at 11 a.m. Saturday in Faribault, just an hour before Randy and I began ringing bells.

The temperature at 11 a.m. Saturday in Faribault, just an hour before Randy and I began ringing bells.

For the next two hours, in bitter cold temperatures which challenged even the hardiest of life-long Minnesotans like us, we greeted visitors at the Walmart south entrance.

Now you might think I would never again want to ring bells given my fingers and toes and cheeks got uncomfortably cold. At one point, per friend and north Walmart bell ringer Virgil’s suggestion, I retreated to the women’s bathroom to warm my icy red fingers under the hand air dryer. Heat never felt so good.

Gary and Barb work the 10 a.m. to noon bell-ringing shift at Walmart south.

Gary and Barb work the 10 a.m. to noon bell-ringing shift at Walmart south.

I will ring bells again, though.

When my cheeks started hurting and flaming red, I added a second scarf.

When my cheeks started hurting and flaming red, I added a second scarf.

I will ring bells again because the temporary discomfort I experienced is nothing compared to the challenges faced by those who benefit from Salvation Army services. Funds help those in emergency situations cover gas, housing, medical and other expenses. Donations also finance the “Shop with a Cop” program assisting children in need.

Nearly 90 percent of the monies dropped into kettles in Rice County stay in the county. This year the county chapter hopes to raise $50,000. In 2012, nearly $40,000 were raised, which was not enough to meet local needs.

Gary and Barb welcomed a stranger's cups of coffee.

Gary and Barb, an hour into their two-hour shift, were getting cold, but still smiling.

To be a small part of the Salvation Army’s mission, by giving two hours of my time, proved humbling and rewarding. Friend Virgil rang for 1.50 shifts while Linda, another ringer from my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, pulled a double shift. That’s four hours. Outside. In the bitter cold.

Two girls give to the Salvation Army on Gary and Barb's shift.

Two girls give to the Salvation Army on Gary and Barb’s shift.

I was especially moved by the young parents who are teaching their children the joy of giving. Several times I watched as youngsters barely tall enough to reach the kettle dropped coins into the slot, sometimes spilling the change onto the sidewalk. We rewarded 14 youngsters with candy canes for their generosity.

One particular boy, about nine, exuded extra energetic enthusiasm. “Have a good day!” he shouted to us after placing money in the kettle.

Moments like that are priceless as is the story one mother shared while her little boy put coins in the bucket. They had seen a Toys for Tots television ad, she said. He then wanted to donate a toy, if he could get one for himself, too. I thanked this mom for teaching her son about giving at such a young age.

Randy and I were also the recipients of gratitude. Numerous donors thanked us for ringing bells, especially on such a cold day. “Bless your heart,” one woman said. Those three words most assuredly warmed my heart.

And then, near the end of our two-hour shift, another woman exiting Walmart handed me two packs of chemical hand warmers to slip inside our mittens and gloves. I was incredibly moved by her thoughtfulness.

What a great mission as noted on the sign,

What a great mission as noted on the sign: “Sharing is caring…need knows no season…God bless you.”

In the previous shift, another stranger purchased coffee for Gary and Barb and doughnuts for Virgil and Linda. Again, such kindness.

When our shift ended, we handed our bells and aprons and hand warmers, and the remaining 22 candy canes reserved for kids, over to our friend Leann. She was ringing the Salvation Army bell with joyful enthusiasm as we walked away.

I learned later that Virgil retrieved his wife’s boots from his car for Leann, whose boots weren’t warm enough. Leann distributed 14 candy canes to giving children, just like us, then passed the remaining four treats to fourth-shift bell ringer, Dennis.

I asked Leann if she’d had any particularly memorable moments and she shared how a teen, who’d just purchased gifts and wrapping paper, paused to pull bills from his pocket and donate. Not only that, he told her how happy he was to give.

That, my friends, represents the true spirit of charitable giving.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Car art December 3, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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I WAS NEAR GIDDY as I crossed the Buckham Memorial Library parking lot.

Car art, side view

There, there sat that car. That car. The one I’ve watched zoom up the street past my Faribault home many times.

I’ve always wanted to photograph this Joseph’s coat of many colors automobile. And now, with my camera available, I could.

Car art, side view 2

But wouldn’t you know, just as I grabbed my Canon from the van, droplets of rain spurted from the sky. I folded my camera inside my cardigan and hurried toward the car to snap a few quick frames.

Car art, back of

Close up, I noticed that what I thought to be duct tape was, instead, reflective tape in primary colors plus black, white and brown adhered to this Cadillac Cimarron.

I got my photos. Now I need the story.

Who owns this work of art?

Why is this Caddy covered in tape? Is the owner making an artistic statement? Or was this tape adhered for some practical reason?

Thoughts? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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