Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Flowers from Steve September 9, 2013

Twiehoff Gardens along St. Paul Road in Faribault offers an abundance of fresh produce.

Twiehoff Gardens along St. Paul Road in Faribault offers an abundance of fresh produce. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

“DO YOU HAVE ANY GLADS?” I asked Steve Twiehoff after my husband and I selected fresh baby red potatoes, green beans and a bag of northern Minnesota grown wild rice at Twiehoff Gardens on Faribault’s east side Sunday afternoon.

“I stopped cutting them,” Steve answered. “The deer were eating them.”

Old-fashioned gladiolus have been a mainstay at Twiehoff Gardens for decades.

Old-fashioned gladioli have been a mainstay at Twiehoff Gardens for decades. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I must have looked disappointed or sighed because he told me then and there that I could head out to the field and cut whatever gladioli I wanted—three for $1.

“Where?”

He pointed toward the slim opening in the pole shed doors, past the onions and gourds and pumpkins piled on a trailer, then outside and across the gravel parking lot and up the hill.

This is as close as I got to the glads, standing along the shoulder of the road photographing them.

Gladioli grow in a field near Utica in Winona County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

“I’ll be back,” I said accepting the clippers this vegetable farmer handed to me. I aimed for the field that held glads, flowers rooted deep in my memory. I can still see the rows of gladioli rising above the greenery of the vegetable garden, splashing pinks and yellow, but mostly orangish red, across the land. My mom’s one small spot of beauty upon soil otherwise designated mostly for crops to feed the family and the livestock.

Steve knew none of this when he gave me the clippers.

But as I worked my way across the uneven and weedy patch of abandoned vegetable and flower garden in my flip flops, I thought of my mom and of her gladioli and how each fall she dug those bulbs—and later I did, too—to winter over in the cellar, to replant in the spring.

The three stems of gladiolus I snipped in Steve's garden.

The three stems of gladiolus I snipped in Steve’s garden.

I snipped three stems of pink blossoms from Steve’s garden, the only trio that appeared salvageable.

Clippers and blooms clutched in my hand, I aimed back for the pole shed to give Steve my dollar.

I laid the flowers on the counter and reached to unclasp my purse. “You can have them,” he said.

I stopped, looked at him. “Are you sure?”

He was.

“Thank you. That is so sweet.”

I picked up the stems. A smile touched my lips. I strode past the onions and gourds and pumpkins piled on the trailer, slipped through the slim opening between the pole shed doors, climbed into the van and considered how Steve had touched my heart with his thoughtfulness and kindness.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo essay: Life on a Saturday in southern Minnesota September 8, 2013

IF EVER I DOUBT carting my camera with me nearly everywhere, I need only consider the photos I snapped on Saturday in rural Minnesota. The images show snippets of everyday life, of moments and places that seem not extraordinary at first pause, but which are extraordinary for the stories they tell. This is life.  These are the moments of our days, the Main Streets of our towns, the way we live.

And I delight in all of it, in this place I call home, this southern Minnesota.

Mid-morning Saturday, while I was watering my flowers, a mini tractorcade puttered past my Faribault home. By the time I realized what I was seeing and retrieved my camera from my office, I

Mid-morning Saturday, while watering flowers, a mini tractorcade puttered past my Faribault home. By the time I realized what I was seeing and retrieved my camera from my office, I was able to photograph only the tail end of the line. Lesson learned: Grab my Canon before going outside to water flowers.

Over in Owatonna in the afternoon, I shot this signage in the heart of downtown. Walt the Barber. I expect he could spin a story or ten.

Over in Owatonna in the afternoon, I shot this signage in the heart of downtown. Walt the Barber. I expect he could spin a story or ten.

Perhaps Owatonna's best-known historic building,

Perhaps Owatonna’s best-known historic building, the old National Farmer’s Bank Building, considered by some to be “the most beautiful bank in the world.” I’ve toured it previously and can vouch for the accuracy of that description. Chicago architect, Louis Sullivan, designed the bank, built in 1908. It’s a must-see.

On the opposite side of the street from the bank, I spotted this cooler of fresh sweetcorn outside of Party-Plus of Owatonna.

On the opposite side of the street from the bank, I spotted this sign in the front window and this cooler of fresh sweetcorn outside of Party-Plus of Owatonna. My husband had already purchased sweetcorn earlier in the day for more money, so we didn’t need any. If you’re looking for anything party related, this store offers a great inventory of products.

I stopped at family-owned Owatonna Shoe and snapped 40 photos, the best of which I will share in a later post. For now you'll have to settle for this exterior shot.

I stopped at family-owned Owatonna Shoe and snapped 40 photos, the best of which I will share in a later post. For now you’ll have to settle for this exterior shot with that delightful OPEN TODAY til 5:00 postscript. I’ll also feature photos from “Steele County: Butter Capitol of the World,” an exhibit at the Steele County History Center and my reason for visiting Owatonna on Saturday.

I love beautiful historic architecture. Driving by Kristi's Clothing in downtown Owatonna, I zipped down the window and shot this image of one splendid detailed building.

I love beautiful, historic architecture. Driving by Kristi’s Clothing in downtown Owatonna, I zipped down the window and shot this image of one stunning building. Look at that sweet balcony and the detailed art.

Instead of bar hopping, this bridal party stopped at an Owatonna ice cream shop for sweet treats. I captured this scene as my husband and I were leaving the downtown area.

Instead of bar hopping, this bridal party stopped at an ice cream shoppe. I captured this scene as my husband and I were leaving downtown Owatonna and heading back to Faribault via County Road 45. No Interstate 35 for us due to road construction.

The Congregational United Church of Christ posted this sign on its message board along the main drag through Medford.

The Congregational United Church of Christ posted this message in the heart of Medford. I love these faith-based messages because they always cause me to reflect. Mini sermons, I call them.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Violent crime that’s way too close to home, my home September 4, 2013

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Central Avenue in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Central Avenue in downtown Faribault. In the residential area of Central, blocks from the downtown, a troubling crime recently occurred. Yes, I feel safe in downtown Faribault.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I DEBATED WHETHER I should write about this. But my writing roots lie in journalism. And I can’t ignore hard news, especially hard news within my neighborhood.

This is the type of news you never want to read about in your community. Drive-by shootings. Yes, three. In Faribault. In an 11-block area. In six days. One two blocks from my house. All apparently connected, based on evidence collected at the scenes.

No one was struck in the shootings at homes along Willow Street (my street) and in the 900 block of Central Avenue and also at the Kwik Trip East convenience store.

At this point, the Faribault Police Department has formed a task force to address the crimes and Police Chief Andy Bohlen, in a news release, stated that “This type of violent crime is particularly alarming and we need this dangerous person (s) identified and taken into custody as soon as possible.”

I couldn’t agree more. You can read the entire news release by clicking here to reach the Faribault Police Department Facebook page and an August 30 posting.

At this point, I’m surprisingly not as rattled as I thought I would, or maybe should, be. My attitude bothers me. I should be outraged that someone is shooting at houses where children live. I should be worried that one house is only two blocks from mine, right next to the spot where my son once boarded his school bus. I should be concerned that bullets were fired into the convenience store where my family buys gas and the occasional groceries.

What is wrong with me that I feel only troubled and unsettled, but not outraged? Have I become too accustomed to violent crime?

ANYONE WITH INFORMATION about the drive-by shootings should contact the Faribault Police Department at (507) 334-4305 or the tipline at (507) 334-0999.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting cultures at the International Festival Faribault August 22, 2013

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Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico's national anthem last September during the International Festival Faribault at Faribault's Central Park.

Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico’s national anthem during the 2011 International Festival Faribault at Faribault’s Central Park. The flags represent the diverse cultures of Faribault.

ITS PURPOSES ARE TO PROMOTE understanding between cultures and to unite the community.

This Saturday, August 24, the International Festival Faribault will strive to do just that through song, dance, ethnic cuisine, children’s activities and more from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in Central Park.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, left, and Nasteho Farah whom I met at last year’s fest.

I’ve attended the fest, now in its eighth year, several times. Each time I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for other cultures and for the challenges new immigrants to my community face. That hasn’t necessarily come simply via sitting on a park bench and watching ethnic dancers or listening to ethnic music. Nor has it come from purchasing food unfamiliar to my Minnesota taste buds.

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician.

A precious little boy photographed next to a vendor’s table during the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

Rather, I have learned the most by interacting, one on one, with those whose skin color and backgrounds differ from mine.

Therein, in my opinion, lies the key to understanding and uniting. The ability to see each other as individuals breaks down barriers, dispels untruths, brings people together. International Festival Faribault offers an ideal setting in which to connect personally.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from the 2012 festival.

So to the residents of my community, I issue this challenge: Attend the festival and connect with at least one person you don’t know. If you’re the descendant of German immigrants, strike up a conversation with someone from Somalia. If your roots are in Mexico, introduce yourself to someone with Scandinavian ancestry. You get the idea.

An Aztec dancer, garbed in a symbolic headdress entertains the audience during International Market Day in Faribault.

An Aztec dancer, garbed in a symbolic headdress, entertains the audience during International Market Day in Faribault in 2009. The event has since been remained International Festival Faribault.

In between that mingling, be sure to take in these scheduled activities:

10:30 – 11 a.m., Contemporary Spanish music by Miguel Tobar of Medford, also the program MC

11 – 11:30 a.m., Flag Ceremonies

11:30 – noon, Central American dances presented by Florecitas de Dios, a children’s dance group from Owatonna

noon – 1 p.m., Aztec dancers

1 – 2 p.m., Juggling act

2 – 4 p.m., Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo from Owatonna shows selected creatures.

2 – 3 p.m., Contemporary, gospel, pop and country music by Edy Valentine of Faribault

3 – 3:30 p.m., Somali dancers from the Twin Cities

3:30 p.m., breaking of pinatas and end of silent auction

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of a group of children waiting to swing at the pinata during the 2012 festival.

Besides all of that, you’ll find a busy children’s area with a bouncy castle, games, face painting, hula hooping and more. One of the sweetest parts of this festival is to observe children, no matter their skin color, dress or culture, scrambling for candy from a broken pinata or sitting side by side at a picnic table coloring. They don’t care about cultural differences that seem to wedge into the minds of adults.

The United Way Red Truck will also be on the festival grounds with free children’s books to give away. I’m all for anything that encourages reading.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos-- chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk.  You'll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos– chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk. You’ll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods.

Come hungry as vendors will sell ethnic foods of Central America, Somali, Ethiopia, Norway, Germany and more. Craft vendors will also be on-site.

International Festival Faribault truly does offer all of us the opportunity to embrace one another, to understand and to unite.

FYI: Click here and then here to read my blog posts from the 2012 festival.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I hate traveling around the Twin Cities on a summer weekend August 12, 2013

“OH, THE PLACES you’ll go…you can steer yourself any direction you choose…”

Apparently Dr. Seuss has never driven through the Twin Cities metro on a weekend, especially this last one.

You could not go any direction you chose due to road construction. Everywhere.

On Saturday morning, heading north from Faribault on Interstate 35 and then eventually northwest on Interstates 494 and 94, my husband, son and I encountered gridlock, as in stopped traffic or traffic moving at a 20 mph maximum for mile beyond endless mile. I have never seen the traffic situation this bad in 30 years of occasionally traveling these three interstates.

It all started near Lakeville, where we crept along to the I-35 Burnsville split.

But pity the poor motorists backed up even further as the sound bound lanes of 35 were shut down completely for the entire weekend. After viewing the miles and miles of stopped traffic there, we opted for an alternative route home on Sunday (more on that in a minute).

Back to Saturday morning. Before the river bridge in Burnsville, north bound traffic finally opened up. Yeah. Little did we know…the worst was yet to come.

Not long after exiting 35 onto 494 west bound, which for once was not a harrowing experience of trying to shoehorn our van into traffic, we encountered more delays. Again, road construction is to blame along with the usual heavy weekend traffic. All told, travel time from Faribault to Monticello totaled nearly two hours. Usual drive time is maybe an hour and 20 minutes.

The only two positives in all of this: At least everyone was creeping along, meaning no crazy motorists driving like maniacs and/or weaving in and out of traffic. And roads are being improved.

Four hours later, following a brief stop at a rest stop, we reached our destination, a family reunion in Morris.

The reunion was great (photos of that forthcoming tomorrow). But the thought of returning home through the metro on Sunday afternoon, not so much. We knew the traffic then would be even worse with motorists heading back into the Cities from a weekend up north.

My husband’s oldest sister, after sharing a story of how she and her husband once sat for 40 minutes on a metro interstate on a Sunday afternoon without moving, proved the deciding factor in taking the long back way home. At least we would be moving.

So near St. Cloud, we exited 94 on Sunday and followed Minnesota Highway 15 all the way to Winthrop. Seems other motorists had the same idea. Yeah. But at least we were moving.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault. Nothing compared to metro road construction and the major traffic snarl-ups there. Sorry, but I failed to photograph the interstate gridlock.

Five hours later, following a lunch break and a stop to purchase fresh veggies at a roadside stand, we drove into Faribault and, ta da, more road construction. In the nearly 30 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen this much road work on major roadways (Minnesota Highways 60 and 21) in my community. Not quite metro area gridlock, but…

DO YOU HAVE ANY stories to share about traffic in the Twin Cities metro this past weekend?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A watercolor photo of an historic Minnesota library

HE’S PULLED INTO the 15-minute parking spot in front of the library on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I wait in the front passenger seat as my husband dashes inside to return a DVD and pick up a book for me.

I am grateful for his consideration, that I am not the one racing up the sidewalk in the rain.

As I watch the rain glide in sheets across the windshield, I notice how the old stone library, with its signature stained glass windows, appears distorted. The colored windows, in soft shades of rose and wheat, seem undefined, as if brushed in watercolor.

In that moment I stretch downward, reaching for the camera bag at my feet, considering that the dreamy scene unfolding before me might just make for an interesting image. Leaning slightly back, I aim my camera lens upward and snap several photos.

I don’t know what to expect. But later, when I upload the images into my computer, I am pleased to see the surreal first frame exactly as I had hoped. Dreamy. Like a painting.

This marks an epiphany for me as a photographer. When I am willing to think beyond the confines of a neat, orderly, precise photo, the unexpected happens. And it’s  magic.

An unedited image of Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault as taken through the front windshield of our family car while rain was falling. The unusual hue of the sky is from the tint in the windshield.

FYI: The 1929 Thomas Scott Buckham Memorial Library, built of Kasota stone, was designed in the Art Deco style by Charles Buckham of Vermont and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Anna Buckham gifted the library to the city of Faribault in memory of her husband, Thomas Buckham, a prominent local judge and avid Greek scholar with a special interest in the arts.

Anna Buckham chose a Greek theme for the library which includes a Greek window designed by world-renowned stained glass artist Charles Connick of Boston.

In the library’s Great Room, Alfred J. Hyslop, a former art professor at Carleton College in Northfield, painted four Greek murals depicting scenes from Olympia, Athens, Sparta and Delphi.

And, yes, I really should photograph the Connick window and murals to show you. I see this library, use this library, all the time. I’ve simply grown complacent to its artful beauty.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A bear sighting in Faribault August 10, 2013

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Bear

UNLIKE SOME BLOGGERS I know (click here), I do not have to travel all the way to Wyoming to see a bear. I photographed this bear at the intersection of a four-lane highway and a busy street in a commercial area of Faribault Wednesday evening. The A & W bear almost seamlessly blends in with the road construction environment.

No need to be alert, make noise, carry bear spray or avoid hiking alone or running.

This bear, offering free root beer floats, seemed much too friendly for those worries.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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