Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I get free green beans (and lots more) at the Faribault Expo April 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 1:37 PM
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WHEN I VISITED the annual Faribault Business Expo and Community Showcase for the first time on Thursday evening, I didn’t know quite what to expect.

“Surprised” best summarizes my reaction.

First, I am surprised to see so many vehicles encircling the Faribault Ice Arena, where the event is held. My husband and I even have to wait for a parking spot to open up.

Once inside, I am a bit overwhelmed by the rows of booths spread out before me. But you have to start somewhere, and I begin by accepting a still-warm chocolate chip cookie, a vendor freebie. Considering that I haven’t eaten supper, I wolf down the treat and a second cookie offered a few booths away.

Already I like this expo. But it gets better. A guy dressed in corny corn head-wear hands my husband a can of Spaghetti Rings. “She’ll take the beans,” he tells the Faribault Foods, Inc, rep and I’m handed a can of Butter Kernel green beans.

Freebies from the Faribault Expo.

Now I’m looking for a cloth bag to carry my loot. I settle temporarily for a paper bag from the folks peddling hearing aids. Considering my ear specialist has told me I really need a hearing aid for my right ear, I talk to the hearing aid vendor for a few minutes, all the time straining to hear him above the buzz of conversation that fills this arena.

Then I move on to The Cheese Cave and introduce myself to Laura. I’ve blogged about Faribault Dairy Company’s specialty cheeses several times and am an enthusiastic promoter of the firm’s cave-aged blue and other cheeses. Simply put, I love this cheese. With three huge plates of St. Mary’s grass fed Gouda, St. Pete’s Select blue cheese and Fini, a sharp cheddar, laid out before me, I can’t resist spearing toothpicks into a cube of each.

I continue down the aisle, tossing bean bags until a vendor finally nudges my fifth bag into the hole and hands me a cloth bag. I tell him I’m not athletic. When he calls me a “good sport,” I feel my face flush.

Twice I try to putt a golf ball into a hole for other prizes that I can’t even recall now. I’m no Tiger Woods, not that I would want to be Tiger Woods.

And then, there’s Plinko. I’m excited about the State Bank of Faribault’s game patterned after The Price is Right Plinko board. I could win $100. But I don’t. I win a lint remover. My husband does better, winning a cooler of sorts that we can’t quite figure out.

All told, by the time we leave the expo, we have pens and pencils, can coolers, a mug, candy, pizza cutters, magnets, informational brochures, a note pad and those two cans of canned food.

Lest you think I’ve come simply for the freebies, you would be wrong. I talk to printers, a cell phone provider, journalists, the police chief, art center and rental center employees, a historian, a restaurateur, carpet cleaner, radio station personnel, bankers and friends.

Oh, and I register for a gazillion prizes.

The entire event impresses me and I expect I’ll return next year. Then, though, I hope to see some of the ethnic businesses that have become an important part of the Faribault community. I don’t recall seeing a single one at the expo.

And, I’m hoping too that another week night is chosen for this event. Some downtown Faribault businesses are open on Thursday evenings, and holding the expo on a Thursday excludes many of them.

There’s always room for improvement, including my need to work on my golf swing and tossing bean bags.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Tina & Lena are Minnesota Moments cover girls April 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:02 AM
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The May/June issue of Minnesota Moments features Tina and Lena.

THE MAY/JUNE ISSUE of Minnesota Moments has just published and it’s jam-packed with fun, interesting and informative stories.

The Minnesota comedy team of Tina & Lena pose as cover girls  in a humorous portrait captured by our talented photographer, Stuart Goldschen.

Publisher/editor Mike Nistler, whom I think is mostly German, if not all German, got the inside story about these two Norwegians. The women define themselves, on their Web site, as “two loony ladies with lots of laugh lines, (who) spout off about everything from woodstoves to Web sites.”

I’ve never seen the duo perform, but I betch ya I would like their self-described “clean, clever style of backyard wit and wisdom that’s stuffed with heaping helpings of hilarity.” Check out Mike’s feature for more details about this entertainment/motivational team.

Inside this issue, you’ll also find John Caughlan’s stunning photos of Split Rock Lighthouse, which turns 100 this year.

My photos, and a few taken by my daughter Miranda, fill many pages of the current issue. I’ve written travel features about Bemidji and Itasca State Park, which my family visited last summer. (Yes, I work even while on “vacation.”)

I also have features (and photos) on a WW II veteran from Kenyon, a 12-year-old Civil War enthusiast from Owatonna and a 91-year-old painter from Faribault. I meet the most interesting people with equally interesting stories to share. If you’re a follower of Minnesota Prairie Roots, you’ve read about those individuals here. But my magazine articles are more in-depth.

Toss in my three book reviews and a “Back in the day” piece, and you can tell I’ve been one busy writer and photographer.

Lest you think I am now resting and twiddling my thumbs with this issue hot off the press, you would be wrong. In the magazine business, we are always, always working ahead on the next edition and beyond.

For the July/August issue, I have already completed stories on a small-town bakery, a patriotic garage, a souvenir store and a resort. I am nearly finished with a feature package about Minnesota rose gardens. My three book reviews are in to my editor and I’m now reading books to review for the fall issue.

Still on my list to complete are a story about a small-town library and a county fair photo essay.

Don’t feel sorry for me, though. There’s nothing I would rather do than write.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Trying vomacka at the old feed mill April 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:22 AM
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The Feed Mill Restaurant menu and specials, listed on a recipe card.

TYPICALLY, WHEN YOU walk into a restaurant, sit down and ask for the day’s specials, the waitress rattles off the choices.

But not at the Feed Mill Restaurant in historic downtown Jordan. During a recent visit there, the waitress hands me a lined white recipe card with the neatly-printed specials.

Now that’s different, I think, as I put down my menu and scan the card.

For $7.99, I can have liver and onions or hamburger steak served with mashed potatoes and gravy and soup. Hamburger steak? That’s different. How can hamburger be steak? (Later, when I google “hamburger steak,” I discover this to be a fancy word for hamburger patties.)

I continue reading the recipe card.  For a dollar less, I can have a hot beef, pork or hamburger commercial. A fish sandwich, chicken and tuna salad sandwich and hot dog options round out the specials.

Considering I don’t like most of the selections, I order a hot pork commercial and, given a choice, pick green beans over applesauce.

My hot pork commercial.

And then, when presented with the soup options, I face an unknown. Should I try the vomacka or stick with the more traditional vegetable beef barley?

“What’s vomacka?” I ask the waitress.

It is, she explains, a Czech creamed vegetable soup and vomacka means “gravy.”

I figure, what the heck, I may as well expose my taste buds to something foreign.

As my husband and I wait for our meals, I hear the waitress tell the elderly woman two tables away that carrots, green and yellow beans, potatoes, onions, celery and cream comprise vomacka. Dill seasoning flavors the mix. I don’t even have to eavesdrop. Her loud voice carries across the room where, even though it is the prime lunch hour, only my husband and I and the woman and her female companion are dining here.

Our beef and pork commercials arrive promptly. My pork commercial is just OK. The vomacka is tasty and I’m glad I’ve tried it.

Vomacka, a creamy Czech soup

And even though I expect a more historic feel to this restaurant, which is housed in a 1914 circa feed mill, I enjoy the view of rushing Sand Creek through huge plate-glass windows in a late 1970s addition.

When the waitress sees my camera, she suggests that I photograph the creek from a nearby foot bridge. “We’ve had professional photographers in here and it doesn’t work,” she says, looking toward the windows.

I want to tell her that I’m a professional writer and photographer too and that I know shooting images through these windows will not work. But, I hold my tongue. Clearly, she thinks that I am just a woman having lunch here with her husband.

My photo of Sand Creek, taken from a foot bridge near the Feed Mill Restaurant in mid-March. The dining room overlooks the rushing creek.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Joy in a memory garden April 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:16 AM
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Valentina's memory garden

MY FRIEND JOY lives up to her name.

Everything about her speaks to pure joyfulness. She’s always positive, happy, industrious, creating, caring, giving…

So Sunday, when I stop briefly at Joy’s house to shoot photos for a church project, I am taken with the evolving garden she is designing in honor of her granddaughter Valentina. With Joy, everything is a work in progress.

The memory garden, ringed with stones and rocks, is a testament to a grandmother’s love for the sweet baby girl who died two days after birth in 2006. Valentina’s twin, Samantha, lived.

Joy first showed me this developing memory garden several years ago. On this day, I am treated to a circle of blooming blue hyacinths and a cluster of blossoming white tulips. Also scattered in the hard soil are a few lonely white pansies. A white-budded tree hydrangea grows as a focal point inside the circle.

Joy’s garden, admittedly, needs some upkeep with dandelions and other weeds creeping into the space. But it’s easy to overlook that and focus on the love and thought that went into this small spot of earth.

My eyes gravitate to the word “COURAGE” that centers this garden.

“Why courage?” I ask.

Joy explains that Valentina means courage.

I marvel at how Joy crafted Brazilian agates into letters—C-O-U-R-A-G-E—carefully  placing the stones into concrete. I also marvel at how this determined grandmother and her son Dan, Valentina’s father, hauled hefty bags of Brazilian stones onto airliners and back to Minnesota so Joy could incorporate Valentina’s homeland into this memory garden.

There is so much love here, in this spot, in this earth. And even though Dan lives today in Brazil with his family, back in Minnesota, one grandmother holds close her precious granddaughter in a garden that exudes courage and joy.

Dandelions mingle with hyacinths in Valentina's memory garden. The rusted scissors adds interest. "I never throw anything away," Joy says.

Joy formed COURAGE from Brazilian stones.

Looking down into a cluster of blooming hyacinths.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Hear Minnesota voices (including mine) in The Talking Stick anthology April 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:06 AM
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The Talking Stick, Volume Eighteen, Common Threads, published in 2009

“YOUR POEM WAS CONSIDERED to be one of the best in the poetry category,” the letter reads.

The words are sweet music to my writer’s soul.

“Your poem, along with several others, was sent to Poetry Judge Heid Erdrich,” the paragraph continues.

I am so excited I can hardly stand it. My poem has placed among the top seven in a state-wide contest that attracts a wide range of Minnesota poets, established and emerging.

Hit-and-Run, will publish in the Minnesota literary anthology, The Talking Stick, Volume Nineteen, produced by the Park Rapids-based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, and tentatively subtitled Forgotten Roads.

No, I didn’t win the $500 first place prize or even the $100 second place prize. But I’ve received honorable mention, and that’s good enough for me.

“We had over 300 entries (in the categories of poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction) of exceptional quality and our decisions were difficult.”

The words resonate—a symphony chorus of praise.

To compete with so many other writers, and then to have my poem selected for prize consideration by award-winning, professional poet Erdrich, pleases me. A lot.

“A terrifying imagery/memory,” Erdrich evaluates. “Some of the lines do not strengthen the poem because they are so long.” Even though her brief comments are not entirely positive, I take them constructively. She, after all, has published three poetry collections.

Me? I’ve had five, soon-to-be eight, poems printed in publications. Read my April 21 blog post, I’m a poet and now I know it, for information about my other recent literary success.

Hit-and-Run, which will print in The Talking Stick, Volume Nineteen, is by far my most emotional, my most heart-wrenching, poem. I write about my initial reaction to the most terrifying day of my life, when my then-12-year-old son was struck by a hit-and-run driver on May 12, 2006.

Apparently the deep-felt emotions in that poem resonated with the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc editorial team. Those writers selected the poems to be published and chose the top several to pass along to celebrity poetry judge Erdrich for prize consideration.

I am grateful to editors Sharon Harris and Tarah L. Wolff for their dedication to The Talking Stick. Without their passion and commitment to this project, fledging poets like me—yes, I believe I can now officially call myself a “poet”—would not have such opportunities.

Readers, please support home-grown literary endeavors by purchasing books like The Talking Stick. The newest volume should be completed in August, just in time for a book release party tentatively slated for September 18 in Park Rapids.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Earth Day wisdom from a Cherokee elder April 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:34 AM
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My niece, Beth, one half of an Earth Day Cleaning Crew in a West Virginia neighborhood.

WHEN THE CLERK at Target handed me a free cloth Earth Day shopping bag last Sunday, I felt like a hypocrite. I had just purchased two rolls of paper towels and a package of paper plates, which she promptly tucked inside the reusable bag.

So, today, I am going to tell you about my 6-year-old niece Beth, who, in my mind, redeemed me from the error of my ways. I’m hoping her actions will assuage my guilt about purchasing those throw-away products, and inspire you.

Sweet little Beth and her mom, Rena, take Earth Day seriously. On April 22, the 40th anniversary of this event that raises environmental awareness, the pair crafted a recyclable art project, took their recyclables to the recycling bin, walked through their West Virginia neighborhood picking up trash and saw the Earth Day movie Oceans, with husband/father Tom.

Beth's recycled Earth Day 2010 art project, including her pledge to care for Mother Earth.

Whew! Rena, who home-schools first-grader Beth, inspires me with her energy and creativity. My niece inspires me with her endless enthusiasm. The mother-daughter team planned follow-ups to their Earth Day activities by putting up a birdhouse, which Beth painted, and mounting a bat house in their pasture.

“Beth is especially excited about the bat house because she loves to sit on the deck on the summer evenings to watch the bats come out to feed,” Rena says. “We are hoping to attract up to 30 little brown bats in this house for their winter hibernation.”

Honestly, I cannot share the duo’s enthusiasm for attracting bats. I wonder if they’ve ever had bats inside their home. I have.

When I emailed my sister-in-law to ask if I could post this story and the photos of Beth, she told me a bit more about her interest in Earth Day: “I think our respect for the earth comes with our family genes, because my granddad was a Cherokee…and grew up near the reservation in Oklahoma. He respected Mother Earth as most Native Americans do.”

She goes on to tell me that her grandfather moved to California during the Dust Bowl and started farming there. Desiring a way to fertilize without harming the earth, he founded Gypsum Fertilizing Company, grinding gypsum rock and other natural elements into a powder to be dusted over crops.

Hearing this story from Rena touched me in a way I can’t explain. I’ve always known of the deep respect Native Americans have for Mother Earth. I’ve always known, too, of their deep cultural respect for elders and the wisdom they possess.

But to personally witness this come full circle—the wisdom of a Cherokee elder passed to the fourth generation—gives me reason to celebrate.

© Text copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of my sister-in-law, Rena


Oh, sweet Friday morning surprises April 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:19 AM
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A just-opened iris in my backyard.

I LOVE MORNINGS like this, which begin with simple surprises.

When I pull the shade on my south bedroom window, my eyes linger on a patch of yellow that wasn’t there yesterday. I grab my glasses and see that an iris is blooming.

Later, after I’ve hung my first load of laundry on the clothesline, I stroll over to the backyard flowerbed, to that spot of yellow, and admire the arching petals and the lavender beards that define this plant.

On my way back toward the house, I sidestep a hint of purple, a tiny wild violet peeking through the blades of grass.

Back inside, I settle in at my computer, open my e-mail and find an uplifting note from my friend Virgil. He’s caught up on my blog posts, he says, and adds, “fun reading the articles and I like the flower pictures!”

Virgil, like me, appreciates flowers. He’s a retired science teacher and a grower of Asiatic lilies and gladioli. I’ve, more than once, been the happy recipient of his floral bouquets.

I also open two forwards (typically I don’t open forwards) from Virgil—one a humorous piece about the English language and the other an inspirational story about a pro-golfer who, unlike Tiger Woods, is devoted to his cancer-stricken wife.

And then, as I’m still smiling at my friend’s messages, my teenage son gallops down the stairs. “Mom, can I have a hug?” he asks, already extending his gangly arms toward me. I nearly leap from my office chair, stretching my arms heavenward to embrace this growing child of mine.

As I wrap my arms around my 16-year-old, I relish the moment. He does not always welcome my hugs. But now, for this moment, this morning, I hold him close. I feel his body, still warm from the blankets that cocooned him through the night. I place a gentle mother’s kiss upon his cheek.

Then, before he leaves for school, my boy hugs me again, twice. I plant another kiss upon his left cheek. He slides his hand up, as he always does, and swipes his palm across his cheek, wiping away my kiss.

“I love you,” I say.

He turns, without a word. The door slams shut behind him.

Iris close-up

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling