Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Say cheese, a Wisconsin experience April 30, 2011

TO TRULY EXPERIENCE Wisconsin, you must, must, visit a cheese store, like Simon’s Specialty Cheese Retail Store in Little Chute, northeast of Appleton. Simon’s offers a Wisconsin experience you’ll long remember.

Simon's Specialty Cheese is one of the retail outlets for Trega Foods, Ltd., which produces natural curds and mozzarella sticks right next door at its Little Chute plant.

And, yes, bring your camera to Simon’s for some touristy photos. Photo ops abound in every aisle.

Start by trying on the cheesehead hats. They’re perfect if you’re a Packers’ fan or are looking for a Halloween costume or, ummmmm, just want to make a fashion statement say in some place like London. I would not, however, recommend wearing a cheesehead hat in Minnesota.

Shoppers, aka tourists, don cheesehead hats and pose for photos at Simon's.

If this boxy style or color doesn’t suit you, then scoot down the aisle and try on a wolf or moose head piece. I would not, however, recommend wearing a furry animal hat in the Wisconsin woods, especially during hunting season.

A wolf disguise... Just a thought here, Simon's, but since your geographical region is called "the Fox Cities/Fox Valley" after the Fox River, how about stocking some fox hats?

If you’re looking for truly unique sunglasses that will turn heads at the beach this summer, then select cheese shades. I promise no one will even consider stealing your chic eyewear. I would not, however, recommend wearing these to, say, Minnesota’s Lake Calhoun, Lake Mille Lacs or Gull Lake.

Chic Wisconsin eyewear modeled by a Minnesotan who likely prefers anonymity.

Now, if you’re hosting a party, you’ve come to the right place. Simon’s offers plenty of conversation starter food choices. Grab a handful or two of cheddar cheese shapes. Cows. Barns. Cupcakes. Beer mugs. I would not, however, recommend purchasing the green and gold Packers and football cheese shapes if you are hosting a football (or any other) party in Minnesota.

Cheddar cheese shapes that are kitschy cute.

Along that same party line, pick up a few bottles of beer fish batter or bread mix. I would not, however, recommend stashing these near Spotted Cow (or any other beer) lest you mistakenly toss the bottled mix into the cooler before leaving on that annual fishing trip up north.

Wisconsin fish batter and beer bread mix, not to be confused with a Wisconsin beer like Spotted Cow.

Finally, even the romantic can find a gift at Simon’s. What better way to say “I love you” for a non-occasion than with a jug of bottled milk? A heart logo on the glass bottle adds just the right romantic touch. I would not, however, recommend this as a replacement for flowers no matter your state of residence.

Romantic or nostalgic, bottled milk is available at Simon's.

There, you have it, directly from someone who’s experienced Simon’s Specialty Cheese and enjoyed every aisle of photo op kitschy-ness. This store is a must-see for anyone visiting Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advertisements
 

After a natural disaster…the fear, the loss and reaching out to help April 29, 2011

I COULD WHINE, moan and grumble all day about the recent weather here in Minnesota. Rain. Cold. Snow showers. More rain and more cold. The cycle never ends.

But then I pick up today’s newspaper, turn on the television, switch on the radio or go online and my mouth clams. I have nothing, nothing, about which to complain.

I have not lost my home, my possessions, my business, my community, family or friends to killer tornadoes like those in Alabama, Mississippi or Georgia. Wednesday’s storms have been termed “the deadliest outbreak of tornadoes in nearly 40 years.”

To view the devastation, to hear the survivors, to even think about the utter destruction brings me to tears. I cannot fathom, do not want to fathom, such total devastation, loss of life and injury.

Tornadoes scare the h double hockey sticks out of me. I can trace that fear back to the June 13, 1968, tornado in Tracy, about 25 miles from my childhood home. I was an impressionable 11 ½-year-old when the tornado raced through this southwestern Minnesota farming community, killing nine. My family drove to Tracy, saw the flattened homes, the pick-up stix jumbled trees, the boxcars tossed aside like dropped toys. You don’t forget memorable images like that.

Decades later a tornado struck my childhood farm, damaging a silo and silo room, tossing farm wagons effortlessly about in the field. Those images, too, remain forever imprinted upon my memory.

Last week I saw snapped trees and minor damage to buildings along Wisconsin Highway 21 near Arkdale, which was struck by an April 10 tornado.

A view of storm damage to trees while traveling along Wisconsin Highway 21 west of Arkdale.

A felled tree by an apparently untouched home in Arkdale, Wisconsin.

In the distance, trees were damaged by a tornado that cut a 17-mile path from Arkdale to near Coleman in Wisconsin on April 10.

Less than a year ago, on June 17, 2010, a tornado outbreak swept through Minnesota, killing one person in Mentor in Polk County, another in Almora in Otter Tail County and the third near Albert Lea in Freeborn County.

How many of us have already forgotten about those tornadoes as we move on to the next natural disaster news story?

Yet, for those personally affected, the story never really ends. The chapters continue with the rebuilding of homes and lives, the haunting nightmares, the emotional aftershocks. Lives have been forever rewritten.

Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Tsunamis. Earthquakes. Fires. Floods.

Survivors manage to pull their lives back together with the help of family, friends, neighbors and even strangers.

After a flash flood devastated Hammond in southeastern Minnesota last September, a group of Dakota County Technical College architectural technology students reached out.  They’ve worked with Hammond resident Judy Johnson in drafting remodeling plan options for her damaged home. You can read their story by clicking here. These students represent the good that emerges from the bad, the spirit of giving that makes me proud to be a Minnesotan.

I’ve followed the situation in Hammond since visiting that community shortly after the flood. I haven’t lifted a hammer to assist with recovery there. Rather, I’ve used the one tool that I possess—my words. I’ve crafted words into stories that I hope are making a difference. After reading my blog posts, two groups of volunteers have gone to help in Hammond.

That’s what it takes, each of us using our resources—whether that be words or money or skills or whatever—to help our neighbors in need.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Waiting for the royal wedding April 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:57 PM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Kate can.

Will will.

Vow vows.

We watch.

Camera coverage.

Media mania.

Her hair.

He’s heir.

Princely pair.

Bridal bouquet.

Guarded gown.

Secrets secured.

Time ticking.

Guests gathering.

World waiting.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Help rebuild the parks in flood ravaged Hammond, Minnesota

An aerial view of Hammond during the flash flood of September 2010. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

SEVEN MONTHS AFTER the raging Zumbro River ravaged the small southeastern Minnesota community of Hammond in a flash flood, residents are still struggling to recover.

That recovery reaches beyond the rebuilding of homes and lives.

Hammond needs more, like help rebuilding its parks.

Hammond resident Tina Marlowe, who was the subject of a series of blog posts I published in March, was recently elected to the Hammond City Council. She’s making it her mission to rehabilitate the East End Park and Ball Field, the basketball court and the Children’s Park.

But Tina can’t do this alone. She’s counting on the generosity of others to donate monies, materials and manpower (womanpower) to the Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project.

First, though, consider what’s been lost. The merry-go-round in the Children’s Park was swept down river to Jarret and was substantially damaged. The ground cover in the park is gone. Picnic tables, grills, fire rings, garbage cans and more were washed away. FEMA will replace some items, but not all.

Hammond's riverside park was all but destroyed by the flood. Marks on the shelter roof show how high the water rose. A baseball field next to the shelter, with a fence around it, is covered by receding floodwaters. Jenny Hoffman took this photo at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 25, 2010.

The bridge connecting east and west Hammond is barely visible during the flood, which also overtook the town's parks. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

Tina wants to not only rebuild Hammond’s parks, but she wants to improve them, make them more family-friendly, with updated equipment.

Here are some of her ideas: “I would love to put a Pirate Ship System down at the East End. This is a popular camping and gathering area and I thought it would be very symbolic for the kids.

I would also like to put in an outdoor fitness area up at the Children’s Park. These are becoming a very popular alternative to the gym and would serve the community well when you consider our location. What a great financial alternative for families in this area. We would include equipment for adults and the children so the entire family can come down to the park and get some great exercise outdoors—and what better scenery!”

Tina’s vision is a multi-step process that she says could take years to achieve. She has set goals and is determined to help her town of about 230 residents (pre-flood).

Right now she’s asking for cash donations and donations and/or reasonable offers of used playground equipment (like that offered on public surplus from churches and schools), ground cover (sand, wood chips or chipped rubber) and green-treated lumber for dug-outs.

Can you help? If you can, submit a comment with your contact information (which I won’t publish) and I’ll take it from there.

Or, you can call Tina directly at 507-753-2166.

Cash donations should be sent to:

City of Hammond

320 East Center Street

Hammond, MN. 55991

Along with your cash donation, please submit a letter stating that the funds are for the Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project. Include a return address so appropriate charitable giving tax information can be sent to you.

If you are a teacher or the leader of a children’s/youth group, or just a parent, perhaps you can take this project on and rally your kids to help the kids of Hammond.

If you own or work for a company that can provide playground equipment or other materials, considering donating to the cause.

If you are a carpenter capable of building a pirate ship, offer to build one.

If you’re a Boy Scout, student or other young (or older) person looking for a project, you can probably assist in some way. Ask. Offer to help.

I am convinced that Tina’s visions for Hammond’s parks, for her community, can become a reality. Likewise, I believe that all of this can happen within a much shorter time frame than Tina thinks. Let’s aim for this summer.

You can make that happen, for the children of Hammond.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, Wisconsin, I do love thee April 27, 2011

I was expecting downtown Appleton to look like historic Faribault with a pedestrian-friendly two-lane central street. Instead I found big city bustle and a busy four-lane running through the heart of downtown.

My husband and I, along with our son, spent Easter weekend in Appleton, Wisconsin, with our second oldest daughter.

IF YOU READ my Monday blog post, you know about the “Guess that state” contest that offers no prize. The prize is knowing you could (maybe) figure out where I celebrated Easter.

That would be in Wisconsin.

Yes, my husband, son and I spent the Easter weekend just east of Minnesota, in the Dairyland state, the home of the Green Bay Packers.

Specifically, we were in Appleton, the birthplace of Harry Houdini and the current home of my second oldest daughter. It is a 5 – 5 ½- hour drive from Faribault depending on how fast you drive and how many bathroom breaks are taken.

It is interesting how, when you travel in another state, you feel kind of like a foreigner. My husband and I tend to notice the details that distinguish regions. Of course, in Wisconsin, cheese and Packers’ green and gold stand out above all else.

But we also noticed, in the central area of the state where we drove along Wisconsin Highway 21, all of the small-town taverns and unincorporated towns, the buggy tracks and horse poop along the shoulders of the highway, the deer stands, the areas for growing potatoes and cranberries, many “for sale” signs on wooded properties, and lots and lots and lots of deer carcasses in the ditches and along the roadway. Oh, and for one short section, the dead muskrat may have outnumbered the total dead deer count for 100 miles.

Aside from those observations, we saw some interesting signage. For example, in school zones, “when children are present,” the speed limit is 15 mph.

The Willow Creek Cheese Factory Outlet was shut, not closed, according to this sign.

One particular business was not “closed,” it was “shut.”

A parcel of rural real estate, what we would term a “hobby farm” in Minnesota, was dubbed a “Farmette for sale.”

Dead-end streets in Appleton were posted as “No outlet.” It took me awhile to figure out that meant dead-end.

Brat fries were the big weekend fundraiser at Appleton grocery stores. The term “brat fry” was new to us. It means grilling.

We were especially amused by this sign in a field: “Certified weed-free hay.” Now, I wonder what the farmer was smoking when he wrote that sign. Cheddar cheese?

Oh, Wisconsinites, I really do like your state so I hope you take this post in humor, as it’s meant. If you want to cross the border and poke some fun at us Minnesotans, feel free. You’re always welcome here. Just leave the green and gold attire at home.

If you’d like to bring some cheese, do. I love Wisconsin cheese.

A small sampling of the cheeses available at Simon's Specialty Cheese in Little Chute. I'll take you inside this can't miss store in a future post.

NOW FOR THOSE READERS who are wondering where I shot the images in my “Guess that state” post published on Monday, here are the answers:

1.  HELICOPTER:  On the outskirts of Tomah just off I-94

2.  SHIP ROCK:  Near Coloma in Adams County

3.  BRAU HOUSE:  Downtown Appleton

4.  WE SALUTE OUR DAIRY FARMERS:  Simon’s Specialty Cheese Retail Store, Little Chute

5.  NEON ORANGE BUILDING:  A Mexican restaurant (sorry, didn’t get the name) in Wautoma

6.  STONE BUILDING:  The History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton. Magician Harry Houdini claims Appleton as his birthplace.

7.  AMISH FARM:  Near Coloma

8.  BRAT FRY SIGN:  Along an Appleton street

9.  GOLD FIRE HYDRANT:  Appleton

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Count me in on Roadside Poetry April 26, 2011

“We’ve selected YOUR poem for our spring Roadside Poetry installment!”

For nearly a month now, I’ve kept that exciting, boldfaced news mostly to myself, sharing it with only my immediate family, my mom and a few select friends and extended family members.

But now that the billboards are up—yes, I said billboards—I no longer feel obligated to keep this a secret.

I won the spring Roadside Poetry competition and my poem now sprawls across four billboards, Burma Shave style, 50 yards apart in Fergus Falls.

That’s it, my poem, the winning poem, which is posted along North Tower Road west of Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls, just down the road from Fleet Farm. Take exit 54 off I-94 on the west edge of Fergus.

Paul Carney, the project coordinator who delivered the good news to me via e-mail in early March, tells me that 100,000 vehicles drive by the billboards each month. “How’s that for readership?” he asks.

Well, mighty fine, Paul. Mighty fine.

Getting my poetry out there in this unusual, highly-public venue really is an honor for me, adding to my poems already published in two magazines and four, soon-to-be five, anthologies.

The mission of The Roadside Poetry Project “is to celebrate the personal pulse of poetry in the rural landscape,” according to roadsidepoetry.org. The first poem went up in September 2008 and was, interestingly enough, written by another Faribault resident, Larry Gavin, a writer and Faribault High School English teacher.

The poems, all seasonally-themed, change four times a year. Mine will be up through the third week of June when a summer poem replaces it. Yes, entries are currently being accepted for the summer competition.

About now you’re likely, maybe, wondering how I heard about this contest. I honestly cannot remember. But I do remember thinking, “I can do this.” So one night I sat down with a notebook and pencil and started jotting down phrases.

Like most writers, I strive to find the exact/precise/perfect/right words.

I scribbled and scratched and thought and wrote and crossed out and jotted and erased and counted and filled several notebook pages.

These poems do not simply pop, like that, into my head, onto paper.

To add to the complexity of this process, poets are tasked with creating poetic imagery that describes the wonderment of the season, all in four lines. But there’s more. Each line can include no more than 20 characters.

Now that character limitation, my friends, presents a challenge. Just when I thought I had nailed a phrase, I counted too many characters. Again and again, I had to restart until, finally, I had shaped and molded the poem I would submit.

“I love the language and the imagery,” project leader Paul said of my winning spring poem.

Honestly, when I wrote this poem, I could feel the sun warming my back as I stooped to drop slips of zinnia seeds into the cold, damp earth. Visualizing has always been a part of my creative process. Choosing the words “vernal equinox” simply seemed so much more poetic than the single, plain word, “spring.”

Even though Paul loved my poem and it fit the contest guidelines, there was a problem: Audrey Kletscher Helbling. Count and you get 23 characters and two spaces in my name, putting me five over the 20-character limit.

I understood the space limitations, but explained to Paul that I really wanted Audrey Kletscher Helbling, not Audrey Helbling, on the billboard because that’s my professional name. He agreed to see if the sign-maker could fit my full name and keep it readable. From my experience years ago writing newspaper headlines, I knew that the letters “l” and “i” took less space than other letters. The sign-maker was able to honor my request.

I haven’t been up to Fergus Falls yet to see my poem and Audrey Kletscher Helbling splashed across four billboards. But a trip will be forthcoming.

FYI: Paul Carney hopes to expand Roadside Poetry, supported in Fergus Falls by the Fergus Area College Foundation, to other locations in Minnesota. However, additional funding is needed to finance start-up, printing and other costs. If you would like to support this public art venue, have questions, need more information or wish to enter the seasonal contest, visit roadsidepoetry.org.

© Text copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of Paul Carney

 

Guess that state April 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:17 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I’M BACK, READERS.

After two days without posts, which rates as totally out of character for me, you may be wondering why I haven’t written. Well, simple. I’ve been in another state for the Easter holiday.

Where have I been?

I could just tell you. But I’d rather make you guess. So today we are going to play “Guess that state.”

Scroll through the photos and clues below and then submit your guess. If you guess correctly, you do not win a prize. Rather you can take pride in the knowledge that you have learned more about one of our 50 states.

So…, let’s get started.

This helicopter on a trailer offers minimal info as to the identity of the mystery state. But it was the only photo I took as we drove here Friday afternoon, through rain, for more than three hours. On Saturday, some areas of this state were under a flash flood warning. Sirens wailed in the town where we were staying.

This natural rock formation known as the Ship Rock is located near the middle of the state.

Beer and bars. No additional words needed.

Residents of this state appreciate their dairy farmers.

Ah, nothing like the tropics to brighten my mood after a long winter. OK, you got me. This is actually a Mexican restaurant in a resort town in the central part of our mystery state.

At this museum, you will see an exhibit featuring magician Harry Houdini, who claims this state as his birthplace. If you know the name of the town, you score bonus points for your smartness. Do not cheat by googling.

Pockets of Amish, or maybe it's Mennonite, or both, reside in areas of this state. I was fortunate to capture this image Sunday afternoon while driving past this farm place.

This photo offers three clues: snow, brats and Piggly Wiggly. Along this stretch of highway on Saturday afternoon, we could have stopped at three brat fries at three grocery stores. (The husband did purchase a brat at The Festival Foods brat fry fundraiser for the Boy Scouts.)

This photo clue should be the clincher. Fire hydrants in the town where my family stayed are painted gold and sometimes green and gold.

PLEASE SUBMIT your guesses along with any comments you wish to make regarding these images or these clues or this state.

Good luck!

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling