Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Iowegians bring their barbecuing passion to Minnesota May 22, 2011

Bubba'Q's logo and slogan on the side of their BBQ trailer.

MEET BUBBA AND SABRINA.

They’re from Ottumwa, Iowa. That’s “A-ttum-wa (short “a”), not “Oh-ttum-wa (Minnesota long “o”).

They’re about as cheerful and friendly a couple as I’ve met. Talkative with a definite accent that I would have placed as more southern Missouri than southeastern Iowa. They set me straight, in a kindly way, on the pronunciation of Ottumwa, a community of 25,000 along the Des Moines River.

Big smiles accompanied their language lesson and an intro to barbecuing at the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in Faribault Saturday. Nearly 60 teams competed for about $10,000 in prizes in the two-day Kansas City Barbeque Society-sanctioned event.

While Bubba and Sabrina didn’t win a prize this time—they have taken grand champion honors in other competitions—they seem content simply to barbecue, win or not. Clearly, this is their passion.

They own Bubba-Q’s, a restaurant and catering business in Ottumwa that features traditional pit style barbecued meats. The dessert menu of scratch made pies, triple chocolate fudge espresso brownies, banana delight pudding and more sounds mighty tasty too.

I wasn’t able to sample any of Bubba-Q’s meats, but Bubba tells me their style is “a little sweet, a little heat.”

I’ll take his word for it.

The ribs they prepare for competitions differ, they say, from the ribs prepared in their restaurant, where customers prefer them falling-off-the-bone tender. The judges, want tender, but chewable, still on the bone ribs.

The two agree that no matter how often and where they compete, and they’ve traveled to many competitions as far away as New Mexico and Las Vegas, they never quite know what will please the judges. Bubba says that’s OK. Then he smiles. Again. He’s just that kind of guy—with a face that shows he’s happy to be barbecuing, whether in Iowa or Minn-e-soooooo-ta.

Bubba and Sabrina's home on wheels and traveling BBQ central.

Even their pick-up truck advertises their barbecuing passion.

WATCH FOR MORE photos from the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest in future blog posts.

For the first time ever, Faribault hosted the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond poetry anthologies May 21, 2011

Poetic words imprinted upon a paver at the Lake Harriet bandshell in south Minneapolis.

WHAT AN EXCITING time to read, and write, poetry.

Yes.

Read on.

If you’re among those who consider poetry boring, unapproachable, complex and difficult to understand, then you’ve read only boring, unapproachable, complex and difficult to understand poems.

Yes, those types of poems exist.

But today, oh, today, poetry is pushing beyond simply words printed in anthologies to highly-public and engaging venues.

At least three Minnesota communities—St. Paul (Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk), Mankato (WordWalk) and now Northfield (Sidewalk Poetry Contest)—have embraced sidewalk poetry, poems imprinted upon sidewalks.

In Fergus Falls, the Fergus Area College Foundation sponsors a seasonal poetry contest and posts the winning poem on four Burma Shave style billboards. I won the spring Roadside Poetry Project competition. (Click here to read a story published today in The Marshall Independent about my writing and my Roadside Poetry poem.)

The first line in my spring poem posted on four billboards.

In Hackensack, as part of its annual summer Northwoods Art Festival and Book Fair, the Northwoods Art Council has invited Minnesota poets to submit poems for display. Attendees then read and vote for their favorite poems.

But the latest news in the poetry world comes from St. Paul poet Todd Boss and Minneapolis art director/animator/designer Angella Kassube, who have created “motionpoems.” The pair defines these poems as “a hybrid of poetry and film.”

The windmill is the subject of a motionpoem written by Toss Boss. I took this photo at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines grounds near Dundas last fall.

In short, they bring poems to life via animation. From what I’ve seen and heard online, this approach works, making poetry more accessible, understandable and, dare I say, exciting. But don’t take my word for it. Click here and view several motionpoems, including my favorite, Todd Boss’ THE GOD OF OUR FARM HAD BLADES.

The duo started this project two years ago, creating more than 20 poems. Now they are expanding, collaborating with New York publisher Scribner’s respected annual Best American Poetry anthology, 2011 volume, to produce 12 – 15 motionpoems. They’ll work with writers ranging from Pulitzer Prize winners to emerging writers. Eventually, the motionpoems will be accessible, for free, online.

I see great promise in these new approaches to poetry that reach beyond printed poems and poetry readings. I see the promise for reaching a wider, more receptive audience.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE on sidewalk or billboard poetry and/or motionpoems? Would you be more likely to read these types of poems than traditionally-published poetry?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Roadside Poetry Project photo courtesy of Paul Carney

 

A Civil War enthusiast’s day at the Minnesota State Capitol May 20, 2011

Brandon Peeters poses in his Union uniform at the Minnesota State Capitol.

WITH TELEVISION CAMERAS around him, Brandon Peeters of Owatonna led the Pledge of Allegiance during a Civil War Sesquicentennial Day program at the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday.

It was a proud moment for his mom, Cindy Hokanson. “We had a great day at the Capitol,” Cindy says. “Brandon was so honored to meet so many people.”

And I expect they were equally pleased to meet this engaging seventh grader who enthuses about the Civil War, his history passion. He channels his interest in to teaching others about the war, participating in re-enactment and roundtable groups, visiting battlefields, learning and more. He’s also applied to serve on the Governor’s Civil War Commemoration Task Force.

That’s all pretty impressive stuff.

You certainly have to admire an individual with such passion, especially when he’s only 13.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Brandon Peeters.

Those gathered at the Capitol posed for a group photo. Brandon is in the second row.

Three Civil War cannons given to the First Minnesota Infantry Regiment were on display at the Capitol.

© Text Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of Cindy Hokanson

 

My Minnesota childhood memories of Harmon Killebrew May 18, 2011

“BATTER UP!”

His voice cracked like the whack of wood against leather as I stepped up to the plate, bat handle vise-gripped in my hands, feet planted in packed gravel next to the rusted, cast-off disk from the disk harrow.

As my oldest brother lobbed the ball toward me, I swung, and as was typical of me, missed. I was aiming to hit the ball toward the barn and milkhouse at the edge of the farm yard, our ball field.

Almost every evening, as the sun inched lower in the prairie sky toward the greening fields of early spring and then into the hot, humid days of tasseling corn, my siblings and I traded chore gloves for softball gloves. “Let’s play ball,” we’d yell in unison.

And then the arguing would begin. “I’m Harmon Killebrew,” my oldest brother hollered, the name flying off his tongue with the speed of a fast pitch.

No matter how loudly the rest of us protested his call, we struck out. He was the eldest. If he wanted to be Killebrew, then he would be Killebrew.

We assumed the roles of other 1960s Twins greats like Tony Oliva and Rod Carew.

But we all wanted to emulate Killebrew, to swing the bat, to watch the ball powerhouse toward the barn roof, maybe even sail as far as the silo room or the cow yard beyond, well out of reach of our siblings’ outstretched hands.

Such are my memories of the Twins’ home run slugger.

I’ve never been to a Twins game, never met Killebrew, don’t watch or listen to baseball.

Yet, upon learning of Killebrew’s death, a twinge of melancholy swept across me as I thought of those pick-up farm yard softball games, the baseball cards my brothers collected and the static of my eldest brother’s transistor radio broadcasting a Twins game in the 1960s.

For all the sibling bickering over who would pretend to be Killebrew or Carew or Oliva, those post chores games score among the home runs of my rural Minnesota childhood.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All things Civil War at the Minnesota Capitol May 17, 2011

IN NOVEMBER OF 2009, I met Brandon Peeters. He’s an extraordinary kid. Tomorrow he’ll be at the Minnesota State Capitol, leading the Pledge of Allegiance as our state celebrates Civil War Sesquicentennial Day.

That’s quite an honor for this seventh grader from Owatonna who has a passion for the Civil War. He teaches Owatonna students and others about the war, has visited many Civil War battlefields and belongs to the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment re-enactment group and the Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable.

Brandon Peeters, front center, marches with Civil War re-enactors.

When Brandon discovered while working on a third grade family history project that his great-great-great grandfather, Valentine Katzung, served with the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment from 1861-1864, fought at Gettysburg and was shot in the left heel, he was hooked on history.

“Brandon is so excited and very honored to be included in the program,” says his mom, Cindy Hokanson. “Needless to say, Brandon’s passion for the Civil War has only gotten stronger. He actually has applied to be one of the nine citizen members of the Governor’s Civil War Commemoration Task Force.” He’ll learn in June whether he has been selected to serve on that board.

Civil War buffs aplenty will gather at the Capitol on Wednesday to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Events begin at 10 a.m. and continue until 2 p.m. with a noon program in the rotunda that will include speakers (Governor Mark Dayton, former Governor Al Quie and others) during dedication of the 2011-2012 Minnesota Legislative Manual, aka the “Blue Book.” This year’s edition is packed with Minnesota-related Civil War history and trivia.

Several members of the Faribault-based Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable will participate in a Civil War Information Fair in the Capitol basement Great Hall. “We will have Civil War memorabilia, books, brochures and a Civil War band poster,” says CVCWR member Dan Peterson of Faribault. “It should be fun sharing with the public, other roundtables and some re-enactors.”

Several roundtables, authors, historical organizations and others will present educational materials and information to attendees. Some will dress as Civil War re-enactors.

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul H. Anderson will dress in period costume during a presentation in court chambers. Civil War Capitol tours are also available at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Three Civil War cannons given to the First Minnesota Infantry Regiment in 1862 by Major-General A. H. Sanford, the American Ambassador to Belgium, are sure to be a hit with Capitol visitors on Wednesday.

It is the first time in decades that the trio of cannons—kept at Camp Ripley, the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley and in Montevideo—will be showcased in one location, according to information from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office. Two will be displayed in the rotunda and the third on the upper mall in front of the Capitol.

I’m certain tomorrow’s event will pack the Capitol with Minnesotans interested in the Civil War. Having attended one Cannon Valley Roundtable meeting and a recent Civil War event in Faribault, I know the passion people possess for this time in our nation’s history. I have yet to meet a young person more interested in the Civil War than Brandon Peeters. If anyone deserves to serve on the Governor’s Civil War Commemoration Task Force, it would be this self-proclaimed history freak.

If you’re at the Capitol tomorrow, look for Brandon. I expect he’ll be in his Civil War costume and sporting a smile a mile wide.

© Capitol photo copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Brandon Peeters photo courtesy of Cindy Hokanson

 

I welcome thee to Minnesota, warm Spring

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Oh, glorious Spring of warmth and sun, I welcome thee to Minnesota. Thou hath been too long absent.

Thy clouds have overshadowed this land, casting weariness upon the souls of all who dwell here.

Thy waters have poured forth from the heavens and fraught despair in the hearts of those who till the soil.

They who shelter the beasts of the earth have anguished.

But thou hath arrived in green pastures where cattle graze.

The sheep eat of the new grass.

And the mighty trees bask in thy beauty.

The people note the quiet unfurling of the leaves. Thou hath caused them to rejoice.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wash day May 16, 2011

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I CARE NOT ONE bit that he detests the rough feel of a scratchy towel against his skin, the abrasive texture of cotton encasing his foot or the stiffness of line-dried blue jeans brushing against his legs.

Nothing. Not my teen’s complaints, or pleads or requests will stop me from hanging freshly-laundered clothes outside to dry.

It is one of my joys—to hoist a basket of wet clothes onto my hip, lug the basket upstairs from the dark cave of a basement laundry room and then step onto the back stoop into the bright sunshine of a spring morning.

Methodically I work my way through the pile of wet clothes, clipping them onto the clothesline as the early day sun warms my fingers and the wind whips socks and jeans and underclothing and shirts into a frenzied dance.

The simplicity of this task pleases me, connects me to the land and to the women before me who toiled, hanging their faded calico dresses, their hand-stitched crazy quilts, their worn aprons, and the patched trousers of their men and sons under the prairie sun.

As my fingers touch the wet cloth, bind cloth to line, I am bound, by this simple act of hanging out the wash, to generations of women.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One year short of three decades May 15, 2011

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ON THIS DATE 29 years ago, I married my sweetheart.

And, yes, May 15, 1982, was also opening weekend of fishing. And, yes, several guests did not attend because they chose to go fishing. Others were in the field.

Here our wedding guests are pelting us with rice as we exit St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta. (For those of you unfamiliar with Vesta, pull out your Minnesota map, focus on the southwestern corner of the state, zero in on State Highway 19 and you’ll find this small town between Redwood Falls and Marshall.)

In this church congregation (different building) where I was baptized and confirmed, Randy and I exchanged our wedding vows. (My glasses really were that gigantic and we really did look that young and skinny.)

During the reception at the community hall, we were whisked away for awhile to the municipal liquor store across the street. Then, later, after supper, we danced the night away with family and friends.

Today we celebrated by shopping at a home improvement store. Pretty pathetic, huh?

Not too worry, we’re also planning to dine out. And even if we weren’t, the most important part of every anniversary for the past two decades and nine years has been that I am with my husband.

I have one question, though: How did nearly 30 years pass so quickly?

© Text Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo by Williams Studio of RedwoodFalls

 

Pigs and poetry May 14, 2011

This pig greets diners at Piggy Blue's Bar-B-Que in Austin, Minnesota. This image is posted here for pig illustration purposes only, not because it's specifically related to the following story.

IN A WEEK, my sister-in-law is moving from Minot, North Dakota, to Missouri. In August, my brother-in-law, an Air Force man, will join her and their young son.

She’s leaving early to seed the garden, plant the orchard and ponder the purchase of pigs. This has always been Jamie’s dream, to own a country acreage where she can grow fruits and vegetables and raise an Old McDonald variety of animals.

Chickens, rabbits, goats and a pig or two comprise her animal acquisition list.

But about those pigs…I overheard a man advising her last Saturday to “hold off” on the pigs for awhile. He didn’t give a reason, only suggested she wait.

Her husband, Neil, although supportive of his wife’s plan, also has reservations about the swine. If Jamie wants a pig, Neil says he can shoot one. He would be right. The Missouri Department of Conservation advises residents to “shoot ’em on sight” in an online article about the problem of feral pigs running rampant.

Thankfully we do not have a wild pig problem in Minnesota. Our problem would be an overabundance of deer.

But we do have a book of pig poetry featuring 133 pig poems penned by 103 poets like Robert Bly, Louise Erdrich and Bill Holm. Red Dragonfly Press, a solely poetry not-for-profit literary organization based in Red Wing, published Low Down and Coming On: A Feast of Delicious and Dangerous Poems About Pigs. James P. Lenfestey edited the 232-page anthology printed last October.

Tomorrow (May 15) several of the pig penning poets, including Lenfestey, will read from the book at a “Pig Gig” slated for 2 p.m. at the Litchfield Opera House in Litchfield.

Now if my sister-in-law wasn’t preoccupied with packing for Missouri, I’d propose she check out this pig gig for pig pointers prior to purchasing pigs.

© Text and Piggy Blue’s photo copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling