Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault celebrates winter & the holidays in a big way this weekend December 6, 2019

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A city of Faribault snowplow decked out in holiday lights for a past Winterfest parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

CELEBRATE THE HOLIDAY SEASON and all things winter this weekend during the third annual Winterfest in my southeastern Minnesota community. Unlike last year, when a snowstorm resulted in a postponed Parade of Lights, the weather looks to be ideal for the event, already in to its second day.

I missed Thursday’s kick-off. The granddaughter’s angelic debut in her preschool Christmas program took precedence. But plenty of Winterfest activities continue today through Saturday.

 

The dining room set for the holidays during the Alexander Faribault House Christmas open house. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

Today the Alexander Faribault House, historic home of our town founder, opens to showcase a French-Canadian Christmas from 4 – 7 p.m. and then again on Saturday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. And, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, “Peter Pan” opens at the Paradise Center for the Arts for a weekend run that also continues into next week.

 

Skaters from a past holiday ice show at Shattuck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Saturday brings a day packed with events appealing to a broad range of ages and interests. Shattuck-St. Mary’s School on Faribault’s east side hosts its annual Campus Christmas Walk beginning with a figure skating holiday ice show at noon. Family-geared activities follow at the historic upper campus from 1 – 3 p.m. with cookies and crafts, visits with Santa and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

 

Musicians perform at a previous Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

 

Meanwhile in our historic downtown, the Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market runs from 1 – 4 p.m. at the Paradise Center for the Arts. At the same time, the Faribault Sno Go Club hosts a Vintage Snowmobile Show along Central Avenue.

 

Artisan gifts like this Christmas ornament are available for purchase at Fleur de Lis Gallery along Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A block off Central, 10,000 Drops Distillery opens its space to 40-plus local craft vendors for the annual Holiday Craft Market. The downtown business district offers plenty of other home-grown shopping options.

 

A previous Winterfest ice sculpture. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

While you’re exploring, be sure to check out the ice sculpture by Sakatah Carvers located at the corner of Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street and Central Avenue.

 

Fireworks from a previous Winterfest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Capping the three days of Winterfest are fireworks at 5:30 p.m. (launched from the American Legion) followed by the Holiday Parade of Lights at about 5:45 p.m. Just a note that taller buildings along Central Avenue can block the view of fireworks. A street dance from 6:30 – 10 p.m. ends Winterfest. Organizers promise heaters spaced around the area to keep dancers warm.

So there you go. Lots to do this weekend in my southeastern Minnesota community.

TELL ME: How are you embracing the holiday season this weekend?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts in the light of recent news headlines December 4, 2019

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Artwork created by Gracie for a student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo March 2018.

 

LIFE CAN BE TOUGH sometimes, really tough.

Five dead in a Minneapolis high-rise fire last week.

Four dead, including two young brothers and their mother, in an act of domestic violence in south Minneapolis just days ago.

Nine killed in an airplane crash in South Dakota.

The headlines and media reports can overwhelm.

Yesterday, a 16-year-old boy was taken into custody in my community after reportedly sending threatening texts to two students that he was “thinking about shooting up the school.” Faribault High School. A similar, but worse, scenario played out in violence in two eastern Wisconsin schools in recent days.

I wish the world was free of meanness, violence, hatred and tragedies. But it isn’t and never will be. Yet we have the power within our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities, our circle of family and friends, yes, within our hearts to individually treat others with kindness, compassion, empathy and respect. And that is a start.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mixed message December 3, 2019

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AS A WORDSMITH, I’m especially drawn to signage, including this one spotted Sunday afternoon along Division Street in downtown Northfield.

I laughed given the falling snow, the snow banked on the front of the pick-up truck parked curbside and the mixed message sent.

Cacti are not warm and fuzzy, although the environment in which they grow is warm, even hot. I suppose that was the idea—to get us Minnesotans thinking about warmer places like Little Joy Coffee with its hot brew.

While the words and art seem especially mismatched to me, I noticed, photographed and remembered them. Thus, marketing accomplished.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Post Thanksgiving gratitude December 2, 2019

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HOW WAS YOUR THANKSGIVING?

The question has been repeated to me many times in past days. My response? It was wonderful. Wonderful to have all three of my adult children here for the first Thanksgiving in probably 10 years. My mama’s heart overflowed with joy.

Simply being together made me happy. We talked and laughed as we gathered around a table enjoying an abundant and delicious meal. I especially appreciate that my girls prepare and bring foods, thus easing the workload of hosting.

 

The scene in historic downtown Faribault on Thanksgiving weekend. A pre-Thanksgiving storm dropped about eight inches of snow here.

 

After dinner, everyone (except me and almost 11-month-old Isaac) bundled into winter gear and headed up the street to slide down the hill at Wapacuta Park. It’s the same place my kids went sledding while growing up. I’m happy to see the winter tradition continue now with the next generation. If you’re going to live in Minnesota, you may as well get outside and enjoy the snow. (Remind me in a month or two that I wrote this.) Family reported back that my 3 ½-year-old granddaughter, Isabelle, loved sliding—her first time out.

 

I set out an assortment of colorful chalk.

 

With that tradition continuing, I also attempted to start a new one, with minimal success. I pulled a vintage chalkboard from a closet and asked everyone to add things for which they were thankful. Not everyone did. I initiated the list and took a bit of ribbing for writing texting. I explained that, because texting is the primary way we communicate when apart, I am grateful for this technology.

 

The gratitude list…

 

I loved my granddaughter’s additions, vocalized to my eldest daughter, who chalked them onto the board. My dolly, Grandma and Grandpa, Mommy, Ms. C…

But it was my second daughter who later came up with the singular word that made me laugh aloud. CHEESE. What can I say? She lives in Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanksgiving reflections November 26, 2019

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I created this Thanksgiving centerpiece using a vintage tray, vintage candles, pinecones from friends, shells from Detroit Lake and letters from my 1970s Scrabble game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

THANKSGIVING. That singular word sparks strong visuals of family gathered around a table laden with a platter of sliced turkey, bowls heaping with potatoes and stuffing, steaming brown gravy, a small bowl of cranberries, salad, and, for dessert, pumpkin pie. I’ve missed a few foods. But I’ve covered the essentials.

 

Frazee, MInnesota’s claim to fame. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

That image is the traditional view of this day. Yet, it is not necessarily accurate. Not for everyone. Too many families, because of distance or other reasons, can’t be together on this holiday that focuses so much on family. I’ve been in that spot many times.

 

Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them during a previous Thanksgiving. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But I’ve learned through the years that I can feel sad about the absence of loved ones or I can choose to be thankful and celebrate the day in ways that remind me of gratitude. In recent years Randy and I celebrated by delivering meals for Faribault’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner. We experienced such joy in bringing turkey and the trimmings to those unable to otherwise enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. Their genuine gratitude blessed us. It truly is more blessed to give than to receive.

 

A message on a bulletin board at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This year, though, we will celebrate Thanksgiving at our house with family surrounding a food-laden table. All three of our adult children will be home, for the first time in years. I cannot wait. A son-in-law (one can’t be here) and two grandchildren, ages 3 ½ and almost 11 months, will add to the fun. I am a happy mama. I don’t ever take the presence of my family for granted because I’ve experienced many holidays minus the “kids.” I admit to feeling a bit melancholy through the years when I’ve heard friends talk about their Thanksgiving plans that often include multiple family gatherings. A lot of those friends grew up here and their kids live either in town or nearby as do a large contingent of extended family. But that is not me.

So this Thanksgiving I am especially grateful for the presence of those I love. I wish for you also a full table and a gathering of family or friends to bless your day.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends!

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road in southwestern Minnesota, a photo essay November 25, 2019

Sometimes I photograph scenes in the passenger side mirror, here the grain elevator in Morgan.

 

IF I STOPPED TO PHOTOGRAPH everything that grabbed my interest while on the road, I would never get anywhere. So I’ve learned to shoot on the fly—from the passenger seat and out the windshield or the side window. I set my camera’s shutter speed in sports mode (a fast speed to catch action) and then scan for photo ops.

Photographing in this style calls for a watchful eye, an ability to compose/frame a scene at a moment’s notice and a lot of luck. Factor in dirty/tinted windows and reflections and the challenge is even greater.

 

I often think, this creamery in Courtland would make a lovely brewery. I’m unsure of its use, but I think it’s a residence/apartments.

 

Still, I manage to capture plenty of images that I wouldn’t otherwise get.

 

Courtlands’ Swany’s Pub, left, always draws my eye for the signage.

 

With that background, I take you on the road, westbound toward my native Redwood County. My photo tour begins about 1 ½ hours into this road trip, in Courtland, This small town is a pass-through point for busy US Highway 14. It’s also the home of my maternal forefathers. Not a lot changes in Courtland, although the Crow Bar burned down a few years ago and has since been rebuilt. It’s across the street from Swany’s Pub.

 

The curve of this tire shop draws my focus.

 

The Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm, which I have yet to visit.

 

A billboard near New Ulm advertises Schell’s Brewery’s seasonal snowstorm beer.

 

Continuing west, New Ulm now requires driving through this long river town (due to a major road construction project on Highway 14). I love New Ulm, just not the time it takes to get through the city when you want to reach your destination quickly. The strong German heritage of this place, its natural beauty and a variety of attractions (including Schell’s Brewery) make me a fan of New Ulm.

 

Harvest was in full swing during my most recent trip to southwestern Minnesota a few weeks ago. This is near New Ulm.

 

Once outside the seat of Brown County, the rural landscape continues on the long stretch of roadways to Morgan.

 

Driving through Morgan, a small farming community.

 

Waiting at the elevator in Morgan.

 

I photograph this co-op elevator nearly every time we drive through Morgan.

 

Now I’m back in Redwood County and the familiarity of grain elevators and small town Main Streets.

 

Near Redwood Falls, a grain truck in a cornfield.

 

Photographing breaks the boredom of too many miles between Morgan and Redwood Falls.

 

Driving through part of the business district in downtown Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

 

Redwood always brings out mixed emotions in me. I attended junior high here, the worst two years of my youth due to bullying in school. From both teachers and classmates. Yes, teachers. But Redwood also evokes some wonderful memories of visiting my maternal grandfather, of hiking in beautiful Alexander Ramsey Park (known as The Little Yellowstone of Minnesota) and buying fabric in the basement of the J.C. Penney’s store. I sewed most of my clothes as a teen.

As I photograph these places, I am documenting my life. Not always directly, but indirectly. And if not my life, then the lives and places of those who call southwestern Minnesota home.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Back home” in rural southwestern Minnesota November 22, 2019

Along U.S. Highway 14 west of Mankato. I grew up some 80 miles west of here.

 

ALTHOUGH I’VE LIVED IN TOWN longer than in the country, I still feel most at home in the familiar surroundings of endless land and vast sky. Southwestern Minnesota. It is the place of my roots, the place of my heart, the place where I feel overwhelmingly comfortable.

 

Farms edge U.S. Highway 14 in this region of Minnesota.

 

I expect most people connect to a geographic location. Do you?

 

Another farm along Highway 14 west of Mankato.

 

Every time I’m back home, because, yes, I still call this rural region back home, I sweep my eyes across the landscape, noticing always how small I feel in this setting. The sky and land overtake every aspect of this place, dwarfing farm sites and farm machinery and people. Only grain elevators seem to hold any sort of visual power.

 

An old-style machine shed in southwestern Minnesota.

 

As I travel through this farming region, I study building sites, pleased by sturdy, maintained barns, dismayed by those with roofs caving. Too many barns are vacant of animals, an almost certain start of their demise.

 

Grain bins define a farm site near Delhi, Minnesota, in my native Redwood County.

 

Like the farmer’s daughter I am, I notice the status of crops from spring planting to harvest. It’s in my DNA, this natural instinct to focus on corn and soybean fields, to assess the growing season, to care about the weather.

 

A farm site west of New Ulm, Minnesota.

 

Although I’ve left this land of my youth, I remain grateful for the earth, the sky, the wind, the communities, the schools, the churches and peoples of southwestern Minnesota. All influenced and shaped me. And still do.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling