Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What I’ve learned about shoplifters November 29, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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VanillaI’VE HAD SOME EXPERIENCE with shoplifting. Not that I ever shoplifted. But some 30 years ago, when I worked at a local grocery store, a customer stole a bottle of vanilla as she passed through my check out lane.

The manager directed me and the suspect to the office to wait for the police. There I had to pat down the woman, a duty which to this day did not seem mine to perform. Today I would refuse to do so.

That initial encounter, though, erased any preconceived stereotype of shoplifters. This was an ordinary looking young woman, not someone who appeared down and out and in desperate need of stuffing vanilla, of all things, under her shirt. She could have been your sister.

Not long after, another customer tried to steal groceries via distraction. She engaged me in friendly conversation while I punched the prices of food, pulled from her cart, into the cash register. (This was in the days before bar codes.) “Pulled from her cart” are the key words here. She purposely failed to place the merchandise stashed under her cart onto the conveyor belt. The store manager, or maybe it was the security guy, noticed. Busted.

I learned two more key lessons about shoplifters. Always check under the grocery cart. And don’t be fooled by a friendly customer.

Fast forward three decades. My husband and I are shopping at Walmart in Faribault for, among other items, charcoal filters. When Randy finally locates the right number to match our room air purifier, he opens the box to assure the proper fit.

But there is no four-pack of filters inside. Rather, Randy finds two hard plastic shells in the shape of pliers. Except the pliers are missing. And so are the filters.

Who does this anyway?

And how did the thief manage to open that hard-as-steel clear plastic packaging right there in the aisle of Walmart without getting caught? Wedging open those molded casings is no easy feat, even in the comfort of your home.

I felt it my duty to report the theft to an associate in the hardware and paint department. He expressed no surprise at the method of stealing. “Happens all the time,” he said.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Have you had any experience with shoplifters or shoplifted merchandise?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thank you for not crashing into my house November 23, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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FOR 29 YEARS, MY HUSBAND AND I have lived in a modest 1 ½ story corner house at the bottom of a hill along an arterial street in Faribault.

Living in a home at the bottom of a hill is not the most desirable location during a Minnesota winter. I was reminded of that again Friday when, between 7 a.m. – 7:45 a.m., someone drove onto our side yard from the side street.

That's the corner of my house on the right with the vehicle tracks in the snow nearly half way into my side yard.

That’s the corner of our house on the right with the vehicle tracks swerving into the side yard.

I did not witness this incident, thus can only conclude that the driver swerved across the end of our driveway, onto the lawn and back into the street to avoid a collision. We’d received a dusting of snow the previous day and city streets were slippery.

This makes me ever so slightly nervous, to see tire tracks within 15 feet or so of our house.

Look just to the left of the meters and above the air conditioned and you will see marks from where a tire hit our house.

Look just to the left of the meter and electrical box and above the air conditioner and you will see marks from a runaway tire that hit our house years ago.

And I am justified in feeling unsettled. I’ve actually watched a tire fall off a vehicle and then careen down the hill, the tire picking up speed and rolling smack dab into our house, barely missing the gas line. The tire marks are still there on the siding.

But even worse, a decade or more ago, an unattended parked car rolled down an intersecting street a half a block away and crashed into my neighbor’s house. I don’t recall specifics of the damage, except some foundation repair was needed.

Yes, living in a corner house at the bottom of a hill and along a busy street presents potentially dangerous situations. We’ve even had chunks of snow, thrown by a snowplow, hit our front windows.

Yet, what I dislike most about living in the valley has nothing to do with traffic or road conditions. I miss seeing the sun set.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Giving bikes to kids November 13, 2013

Me, riding Sky Blue at age 10 on the farm where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota.

Me, riding Sky Blue at age 10 on the Redwood County farm where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota. Photo taken in 1966.

LOOKING BACK ON MY CHILDHOOD, I cannot imagine life without a bicycle. My bike was my imaginary horse, my daredevil stunt car launched off makeshift ramps, my mode of transportation down county and township roads.

If not for my maternal grandfather, though, I never would have owned a bike. My parents could not afford bikes for their kids. So Grandpa would scavenge the local dump for bikes he could repair, repaint and deliver to me and my five siblings.

It mattered not that my bike, which I named Sky Blue, wasn’t new. I owned a bike. I was a happy kid.

That childhood memory bubbled to the surface Monday morning when Dee Bjork at The Crafty Maven in downtown Faribault handed me a flier about the Free Bikes 4 Kidz program. I wanted, no, needed, to learn more about this partnered local give-away by So How Are the Children and Allina Health (presenting sponsor for the non-profit Free Bikes 4 Kidz). So I phoned SHAC Director Carolyn Treadway.

The give-away “targets kids whose families couldn’t otherwise afford bikes,” says Treadway. Kids just like me and my siblings decades ago.

As Treadway and I concur, a child’s desire to own a bike is universal, transcending time.

On December 7, Treadway expects SHAC and Allina to give away 65 – 75 bikes to pre-registered Faribault youth. She’s actively searched for kids—handing out fliers to teachers, drawing on her connections through SHAC and dropping in at places like St. Vincent de Paul, a childcare center and a laundromat to find families needing bikes. She’s currently placing names on a waiting list.

Kids from Northfield and Steele County will also get new or gently-used and refurbished bikes at the Faribault Middle School pick-up site. All told, Treadway anticipates 150-175 bicycles to be distributed along with new bike helmets, compliments of Allina Health.

Among those expected to show up are an east-side Faribault woman who will claim seven bikes, Treadway says. The bicycles are for her neighbor children whose father, in a state of inebriation, destroyed their bikes. The woman will store the bikes in her garage until spring.

Treadway enthuses about such a neighborly caring spirit and about the volunteers who repair the used bikes and assist with the give-away. She’s also grateful for those who donate bikes, some of which were collected at the Faribault Bike Rodeo in October. Allina Health coordinates numerous collections of bikes to be distributed in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Another local recipient is a Faribault father who signed his 12-year-old and 14-year-old up for Free Bikes 4 Kidz. When the dad asked if he could also get a bike for his 18-year-old, Treadway assured him he could. The older teen attends the Faribault Area Learning Center and a bike will enable him to stay in school because he will now have a way to get there.

Stories like that truly show the humanity of this program aimed at getting bikes to kids so they will have, as Treadway says, “access to safe and healthy physical activity.” Or, in the case of the 18-year-old, access to education.

The program also builds connections and a sense of community care.

Yet, the bare bones basics benefit of Free Bikes 4 Kidz is to get bikes into the hands of children who otherwise would not have a bike of their own. The program has grown significantly in Faribault, where only a dozen free bikes were distributed two years ago.

“Owning a bike,” Treadway says, “is very near and dear to a child’s heart.”

It is the universal childhood desire which transcends time. Just ask me. I’ve never forgotten Sky Blue or the grandpa who scavenged the dump so I could have a bike.

 A bike pulled from my garage.

A bike pulled from my garage and photographed. I then edited the image to illustrate this story.

FYI: To learn more about the non-profit Free Bikes for Kidz, click here.

For more information on Allina Health’s partnership in the program, click here.

To learn more about So How Are the Children, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My thoughts on the changing streets of Faribault November 6, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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I DON’T LIVE on a Bay, a Circle or a Drive.

I live along Willow Street.

That alone should tell you that my home sits in an old neighborhood. After all, cities don’t name streets after trees anymore or even attach the word “street” to a new roadway. If there are willows growing along my street, I haven’t noticed them.

But I’ve noticed, in the 29 years my husband and I have been in our modest three-bedroom, one-bath Willow Street home, that there’s a certain stigma attached to our arterial street, to our part of Faribault.

And I’m not happy about that.

For example, a few evenings ago, we joined friends around a backyard bonfire. The conversation ebbed and flowed with intermittent laughter, until a friend remarked, “I see your neighborhood is getting more diverse.” I knew the comment stemmed from a drive-by shooting several months ago within two blocks of my home.

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My defenses kicked in and I was prepared for an unpleasant exchange about the ever-growing cultural diversity of Faribault and the perceived “problems” in my neighborhood. My husband responded and the topic was dropped. I didn’t find myself, once again, championing for those of color, although you’ll never find me defending criminal behavior committed by anyone, whether white, black, green or purple.

In this file photo, a Somali family waits to cross a downtown Faribault street.

A Somali family in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Honestly, I tire of the underlying, and often blatant, prejudicial jabs I hear and read about in my community. The Hispanic, Somali, Sudanese, Asian, African American and other minorities who now call Faribault home are here to stay. And some of them happen to live in my neighborhood. So what? Does this make my neighborhood less desirable? Apparently to some. Not to me, unless these neighbors disrupt the neighborhood with illegal and/or undesirable criminal activity and/or behavior.

And, believe me, I’ve had “bad neighbors” whose skin is white, just like mine.

Many Latinos call Faribault home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Many Latinos call Faribault home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Oftentimes I want to grab life-long locals by the shoulders and tell them that the Faribault they knew growing up is not the Faribault of today. These newcomers are here to stay. Welcome them. Get to know them as individuals and as families, for in so doing misconceptions and fears fall by the wayside. Be kind. Embrace them.

When I moved to the Faribault area in 1982, it took a long time for me to feel welcome and a part of the community. Sometimes I still feel like an outsider because I didn’t grow up here, don’t have family here, nor does my husband. I can only imagine how those of other cultures, those who’ve fled war-torn homelands an ocean away, must sometimes feel. Isolated. Scared. Unwelcome.

Latinos represent a large part of Faribault's diverse population. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Latinos represent a large part of Faribault’s diverse population. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Of those who suggest the newcomers just leave, I want to ask, and sometimes do: “Weren’t your great grandparents once new here, arriving from the Old Country, speaking in a language others could not understand?”

This intentionally blurred image, taken of children waiting to break a pinata at the International Festival Faribault, represents the many cultures within my community. Skin color mattered not to these kids. Why does it matter so much to adults? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This intentionally blurred image, taken of children waiting to break a pinata at the International Festival Faribault, represents the many cultures within my community. Skin color mattered not to these kids. Why does it matter so much to adults? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Oftentimes, too, I want to grab life-long locals and others by the shoulders and tell them that my diverse Willow Street neighborhood is worthy of their respect. This is my home, my neighborhood, the place I choose to live, an important part of this community we call Faribault.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on Minnesota’s rural landscape November 5, 2013

Expansive sky and land inspire the poet in me. Photographed, as are all photos here, along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Kenyon.

Expansive sky and land inspire the poet in me.

WHAT DRAWS YOUR EYE in a rural landscape?

Strong lines pull me in, lead me to wonder where that gravel road would take me.

Strong lines pull me in, lead me to wonder, “Where would that rugged gravel road take me?”

Or do you even notice your environment as you travel from point A to point B?

Noticing the geometry in these buildings clustered on a farm site.

I notice the geometry in these buildings, how they cluster and fit together on this farm site.

I challenge you, the next time you drive through rural Minnesota, or rural Anywhere, to truly see your surroundings. Don’t just look with glazed eyes. See. Once you see, you will appreciate.

A sense of history defines this farm in that strong barn which dominates.

A sense of history defines this farm in that strong barn which dominates and in the mishmash roof lines of the farmhouse. Both cause me to reflect upon my rural upbringing, upon my forefathers who settled 150 miles from here on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

History, point in life, memories, even your mood on a given day, will influence how you view the rural landscape, what draws your focus.

I see here trees huddled, protecting and sheltering that house from the elements. My thoughts turn introspective at this scene.

I see trees huddled, protecting and sheltering that house from the elements, from that threatening sky. My thoughts turn introspective as I consider how we are all sometimes vulnerable and huddled, drawn into ourselves.

Whether a writer or photographer, architect or historian, teacher or retiree, stay-at-home mom (or dad), a farmer or someone in between, you will lock onto a setting that inspires creativity or prompts thought or perhaps soothes your soul.

There is much to be said for noticing details, for understanding that the miles between small towns are more than space to be traveled.

FYI: These edited images were photographed nine days ago while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Kenyon. In just that short time, the landscape has evolved with crops harvested, trees stripped of their leaves by strong winds and now, today, snow in the forecast.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Kommen Sie for a taste of Deutschland in Faribault November 2, 2013

Arroz con pollo tastes much better than it looks.

Arroz con pollo, a Latin American dish of chicken and rice seasoned with fresh garlic, onions, red peppers and cilantro. The perfect comfort food as Minnesota transitions into winter.

EVERY YEAR ABOUT THIS TIME, I find myself craving comfort foods. Homemade mac and cheese. Beef roast and mashed potatoes. Steaming bowls of soup laced with thick chunks of vegetables. Fiery chili. Even hotdish.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce made a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce make a delicious salad, often a meal for me during the summer months.

I eat fewer salads, place less fresh produce in my shopping cart, fight the urge to bake cookies.

The cycling of the seasons, transitioning into the long, dark and cold days of winter in Minnesota, imprints upon my body and psyche. Call of comfort foods. Snuggling on the sofa under a fleece throw, book in hand. Limited trips outside the house once the curtain of cold and darkness falls upon the land.

The German meal: sauerbraten and spaetzle on the left, German potato salad, sweet and sour cabbage, dinner roll and sauerkraut and brats.

The German meal: sauerbraten and spaetzle on the left, German potato salad, sweet and sour cabbage, dinner roll and sauerkraut and brats. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And so this seems the perfect time to partake of the food of my forefathers at Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s annual German Fest: Sauerbraten mit spaetzle, Deutsche potato salad, sweet & sour red cabbage, bratwurst mit sauerkraut and the, oh, so delectable bread pudding.

Diners enjoy the ethnic meal at the second annual CVLHS German Fest in 2011.

Diners enjoy the ethnic meal at the second annual CVLHS German Fest in 2011.

Tickets are now on sale for the Sunday, November 10, German Fest Supper, served from 5 p.m. – 5:45 p.m. in the Trinity Lutheran Church gym, 530 Fourth St. N.W., Faribault. Cost is $13 for ages 11 – adult; $7 for ages 5 – 10; and free for preschoolers with a paid adult. Call (507) 685-2636 for tickets. You may also purchase tickets at the door.

If you appreciate German food, you will enjoy this ethnic meal served after the free German Fest of Thanks & Praise, which begins at 4 p.m. in the Trinity sanctuary. From songs and prayers in German to the music of an accordion trio, a harmonica player and a 12-piece band, the program offers an opportunity to reflect on our blessings.

The German Fest presents a perfect prelude to Thanksgiving and to this season when Minnesotans crave comfort foods.

FYI: The German Fest Supper is a fundraiser for Morristown-based Cannon Valley Lutheran High School, which serves students in grades 9 – 12 from around the region. Classes were suspended this school year, among other reasons, to pay off the school’s operating debt with plans to reopen in the fall of 2014.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’m not anti pumpkin, but… October 30, 2013

The $10 ginormous pumpkins.

The ginormous $10 pumpkins.

JUST DAYS BEFORE HALLOWEEN, Steve Twiehoff of Twiehoff Gardens, a family run produce business on Faribault’s east side, was trying to pitch an 85-pound pumpkin to me. For $10, the pumpkin would be mine and Steve would even load it into the van.

“The neighbor kids will love you,” Steve encouraged.

One of two wagonloads of pumpkins at Twiehoff's Garden.

One of two wagonloads of pumpkins at Twiehoff’ Gardens.

But truth be told, I don’t intend to purchase a pumpkin, big or small, this year.

All sizes of pumpkins are available.

All sizes of pumpkins are available.

Does that cast me in the role of a pumpkin Grinch? Maybe.

Late afternoon sunshine slants through the open poleshed door, spotlighting pumpkins for sale at Twiehoff Gardens.

Late afternoon sunshine slants through the open poleshed door, spotlighting pumpkins for sale at Twiehoff Gardens.

In reality, the lack of a pumpkin purchase projects my present life phase as an empty nester. With no kids in the house, there’s no need to carve a jack-o-lantern. Not that I ever did; that was my husband’s job.

In 1994, my daughters, Amber, left, and Miranda, right, dressed as a butterfly and Dalmatian respectively. Their 10-month-old brother, Caleb, was too young to go trick-or-treating.

In 1994, my daughters, Amber, left, and Miranda, right, dressed as a butterfly and Dalmatian respectively. Their 10-month-old brother, Caleb, was too young to go trick-or-treating.

I focused, instead, on creating homemade costumes for our trio. Those ranged from taping hundreds of cotton balls onto a garbage bag for a sheep costume to stitching strands of red yarn onto trimmed panty hose for Raggedy Ann’s hair to dabbing black spots onto a white t-shirt for a Dalmatian to painting butterfly wings. What moms won’t do.

Five years later Caleb headed out the door dressed as an elephant.

Five years later Caleb headed out the door dressed as an elephant.

I also transformed kids into an elephant, angel, pirate, cowboy and even a skunk, plus a few more characters/animals I’ve long forgotten.

Yes, I’ve done the Halloween thing. So, if for a few years I fail to buy a pumpkin, please excuse me.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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