Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Halloween greetings from Annie Mary Twente October 31, 2012

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I always wonder, what did Annie Mary look like? Anything like this little girl?

THE CARD ARRIVED, not unexpectedly, today in my mailbox as one has every Halloween for the past I can’t recall how many years.

In slanted and uneven letters, my name and address are printed across the plain white envelope, the return address a simple “A.M. 56292, MN.”

Inside I find a Halloween card, this time with a wish that we could be together, Annie Mary and I.

Then my eyes fall upon the familiar message Annie prints every year, always in capital letters: I MISS YOU! ANNIE MARY

Sometimes she adds “LOVE” to her signature note.

Chills run up and down my spine.

And then I laugh at the fun of it all, at the card A.M., aka Aunt Marilyn, sends every Halloween because she knows how very much I dislike the story of Annie Mary Twente.

As legend goes, 6-year-old Annie Mary fell into a coma and was buried alive in 1886 in Albin Township near Hanska in southern Minnesota. Later, Annie’s father had his daughter’s body exhumed only to find claw marks on the inside of her coffin.

It is a sad and unsettling, and supposedly true, story. Many years ago I made the mistake of telling Aunt Marilyn, who lives in my hometown with a 56292 zip code, that the horrifying tale upset me.

Every Halloween (and sometimes on Christmas and Valentine’s Day, too) she remembers…

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Leaving my mark in a Hastings antique shop

I’VE NEVER INKED my name onto a desktop, never etched my name into a picnic table nor my initials into the bark of a tree.

But I left my mark recently in a Hastings antique shop, because, well, I could.

I stood before the vintage Smith-Corona Floating Shift typewriter in The Emporium and pounded out this message: Minnesota Prairie Roots was here. Clack, clack, clack, clack… Twenty-nine times.

The message I left at The Emporium.

And I didn’t even make a typo, but felt a surge of Lutheran guilt at my self-centered promotion of my blog.

“Who would read this?” I wondered. “A customer? Management?”

Then, in an automatic reflex, I pulled my Canon EOS 20D camera to my eye and photographed the evidence. I would not make a good graffiti vandal.

However, from an artistic perspective, I fell in love with the photo—the simplicity of the image with its strong lines, its fuzzy quality (who says sharp focus is always best in photos?), its artsy quality and the red bands of ribbon and of words.

The gracious Emporium staff allowed me to photograph them.

So as to redeem myself for my self-indulgent infraction, I photographed the staff at the counter—they had no idea what I had typed onto that sheet of paper.

And just to make sure I’ve totally redeemed myself, I’m showing you several pieces of merchandise which particularly caught my eye on the second floor of this spacious, lovely and historic building.

Just loved this Fire King piece and this fruit. Should have bought it.

Artsy and lovely and beautiful.

I have no idea of the identity of this flaming orange-haired woman. I could think only of Cruella de Vil dressed for Halloween.

FYI: Click here to learn more about The Emporium, 213 East Second Street, Hastings, Minnesota.

The lovely architecture of The Emporium.

CLICK HERE TO READ a previous post from the Mississippi River town of Hastings, Minnesota, which brims with antique shops in its historic downtown.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Lovin’ Hastings’ historic downtown October 30, 2012

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Just a sampling of the historic buildings in downtown Hastings, Minnesota.

WHY I’VE NEVER VISITED historic Hastings, a Mississippi River town an hour from my Faribault home, prior to a few weeks ago remains a mystery to me.

Jammed with building after building after building hearkening from yesteryear, Hastings’ downtown holds precisely the type of architecture and vintage imprint that I find especially appealing.

Looking up at Second Childhood Toys.

I could just stand there and gawk at the upper floors of these mostly brick buildings—at the arched windows, the detailed trim, the dates that define a building’s birth—for a good spell.

Stroll the sidewalks of downtown Hastings at a leisurely pace and step inside the many charming shops.

But the sidewalk level, too, offers an equal amount of charm with a multitude of antique and gift shops, a sweet spot to sample ice cream or candy, and more.

Relaxing on an early autumn afternoon in downtown Hastings, when the weather was still warm.

It’s the kind of Main Street where folks lollygag, where locals relax on a bench and sip coffee, where a dog lazes in the middle of the sidewalk and no one minds skirting around the canine, where trolls lurk near the bridge.

In Oliver’s Grove 1819, a downtown park, I found this mural of trolls and the old spiral bridge which once crossed over the Mississippi from Hastings to Wisconsin. Hastings was originally called Oliver’s Grove after Lt. William G. Oliver who arrived here in 1819.

This describes the Hastings I found on a Saturday afternoon in early autumn. Hastings, with its historic district, reminds me of Faribault’s downtown. Except Faribault seems to be mostly undiscovered.

Mailboxes and an historic marker on a door in the business district.

These circus glasses caught my eye inside an antique shop, Second Street Antiques and Collectibles, I believe. It was difficult for me to resist purchasing these as I collect vintage glassware.

Inside the same antique shop, looking across the street at a row of historic buildings.

Just in time for Halloween…a vintage clown costume in the same antique mall.

A vintage turkey decoration for the table, a few booths over from that Halloween costume.

One more seasonal find, a casserole in autumn hues.

So many antique shops to visit and not enough time to see them all.

Walking the dog in historic downtown Hastings on a warm and sunny Saturday earlier in autumn.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more posts from historic Hastings.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Prairie prose & photos during the season of harvest October 29, 2012

Just west of Shieldsville, not far from our Faribault home in southeastern Minnesota, my husband and I began our 120-mile journey to southwestern Minnesota on a foggy Saturday morning.

I NEVER TIRE of the big sky and infinite land that stretch far before me as I travel back to my native southwestern Minnesota. I wonder sometimes how I ever could have left this place that brings such solace to my soul, such respite to my heart, such peace to my mind.

A farm site somewhere along the route which took us through or past Shieldsville, LeCenter, Cleveland, St. Peter, Nicollet, Courtland, New Ulm, Essig, Sleepy Eye, Cobden, Springfield and Sanborn corners, ending in rural Lamberton.

When I see this land, walk this land, the longing to be back here, permanently rooted again, tugs at my very core. I miss the prairie that much and the older I get, the more I appreciate this rural place from whence I came.

This image, among all those I took, emphasizes the expanse of sky and land which define the prairie.

It is that early-life connection, that growing up as a child of the prairie, that intimate familiarity with the land and the seasons and life cycles, the dirt under fingernails, the rocks lifted from fields, the cockleburs yanked from bean rows, the roar of the combine and the distinct putt-putt of the John Deere tractor, the calf shit clinging to buckle overshoes, the fireball of a sunset, the sights and sounds and smell and feel of this prairie place that shaped who I became as a person, a writer, a photographer.

These towering elevators and corn pile at Christensen Farms near Sleepy Eye break up the flat landscape.

In this season, as the earth shifts from growth to harvest to dormancy, I notice even more the details etched into the prairie. The sky seems bigger, the land wider and all of us, in comparison, but mere specks upon the earth.

MORE PHOTOS from that road trip to the prairie:

This is not a prairie scene because the prairie has no hills. Rather, I shot this near the beginning of our journey, west of Shieldsville.

Another scene from just west of Shieldsville. It is the muted colors of the landscape that I so appreciate in this photo.

Driving through Sleepy Eye, a strong agricultural community where I lived and worked briefly, decades ago, as a reporter and photographer for The Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch. Sleepy Eye is most definitely on the prairie.

Hills of corn at a grain complex east of Lamberton.

Fields are in all stages of harvest and tillage on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

A grain truck parked at an elevator in Lamberton.

An important sign when trucks and tractors are lined up at the elevator in Lamberton.

I ended my Saturday by walking my middle brother’s acreage north of Lamberton as the sun set, my favorite time of day on my native southwestern Minnesota prairie. I grew up about 25 miles northwest of here near Vesta.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The inspiring art of Richard Vilendrer October 28, 2012

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IF YOU HAVE ANYTHING in your life weighing you down today, and I mean anything, then you need to watch a You Tube video, “The Artwork of Richard Vilendrer.” (Click here to view.)

Richard is a 73-year-old Faribault artist who uses a ballpoint pen and colored pencils and a technique called cross hatching to create the most uplifting and inspiring art. He draws subjects like flowers, leaves, crosses, stained glass and more, integrating religious themes.

An example of Richard’s nature and faith-inspired pen-and-ink and colored pencil artwork.

In fine and precise block print, Richard often incorporates a message: GOD’S GREAT LOVE HOLDS EVERYTHING IN EXISTENCE or I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE or MAY THE PEACE OF JESUS BE WITH YOU ALL.

I first discovered Richard’s art about a year ago at the Faribault Farmers’ Market where Carol Vilendrer was selling her husband’s work, and I hesitate to call his art “work.” Passion would be a more accurate description, I later learned in a phone interview with Richard. That led to a blog post, which you can read by clicking here.

Recently, Carol tipped me off to the You Tube video created by the Vilendrers’ daughter, Rebecca Quidley, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree with an emphasis on arts at a North Carolina community college. As a class assignment, Rebecca had to write about someone who inspired her in life. She chose to write about her father.

When you view this video, you will understand why Rebecca chose Richard because, I promise, you will be inspired. You see, Richard suffered a stroke while vacationing in October 2010 and was paralyzed on his right side. Fortunately, he is left-handed. Richard underwent intense physical therapy to recover. The video shows that recovery process.

Daughter Rebecca writes in her video that, after the stroke, her dad drew with more passion and fervor than ever. That shows.

He draws in a small room—a bedroom before the kids left home—at a drawing table.

Childhood memories, daily life and his faith in God inspire Richard in his art.

Right now, watch “The Artwork of Richard Vilendrer” and be inspired. Your day will be better for having done so.

Scripture and Christian songs also inspire Richard.

FYI: Richard’s given four drawings to his church, Divine Mercy, and one was purchased by the Friends of the Library, on display at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. Half-fold greeting cards are sold at a downtown Faribault consignment shop, Fabulous Finds. Richard’s prints and cards are also sold at events with all proceeds given to the American Cancer Society.

© Text copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
All artwork copyright of Richard Vilendrer and photographed with permission


Too much pink? October 27, 2012


Northeastern Minnesota writer Ada Igoe, who blogs at “Of Woods and Words,” writes this week about all the pink out there during this, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

While I don’t agree with everything she says in her “Rage Against the Pink” post, I agree that this whole “pink” thing is being overdone and has become too commercialized. Just like the right amount of salt can flavor a dish, too much salt can ruin it.

In a row of green and yellow Olivers, I spotted this pink one at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show earlier this fall. I have no reason to doubt the genuineness of this tractor owner in calling attention to the fight against breast cancer.

How do we separate those who truly are genuine in their pinkness as opposed to those simply out to perhaps earn a buck or get some media attention for whatever they are selling or promoting?

Ada raises issues like that in her thoughtful piece. I’m not going to steal and repeat all this blogger wrote. Rather, I will point you directly to the source, so click here.

And just for the record:

  • My mother is a breast cancer survivor.
  • My uncle, Dr. Robert M. Bowman, created Femara, a hormone therapy drug used to treat breast cancer in post-menopausal women.
  • A dear friend is currently being treated for breast cancer.
  • Last evening I waited in line for one hour and 15 minutes to comfort friends and their daughter who lost their youngest daughter/sister to colon cancer after two courageous years of battling the disease. Stacey was only 39.
  • Sometimes it’s genuinely easy to separate those who mean well by emphasizing pink from those who have other than the best intentions. Absolutely, this pink tractor showcases one family’s personal story and does not seek to commercialize or gain anything financially from using the color pink.

    WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on the use of pink to promote breast cancer awareness? Overkill? Just right? Let’s hear.


Shopping Wisconsin style at the Appleton Farm Market October 26, 2012

The Appleton Farm Market on a brisk, early October morning.

FOR THE PAST TWO YEARS, since moving to northeastern Wisconsin, our daughter Miranda has raved about the outdoor Appleton Farm Market. She enthuses about the trolley and the entertainment, the fresh produce and flowers and crafts in this open air market in the heart of a downtown that mixes old and modern, buildings, that is.

All ages, including babies in strollers, were bundled up in the blustery weather.

So on a recent visit to Appleton, which is south of Green Bay for those of you unfamiliar with the Badger state’s cities, we took in the outdoor farm market on a cold and windy Saturday morning. It was mitten and fleece-wearing weather, although we’d left both behind in Minnesota, not expecting such cool temps.

College Avenue is blocked off to vehicle traffic for several blocks.

Our daughter knows a secret, free parking spot (if you arrive early enough) just off the east end of College Avenue, the downtown street closed to motor traffic for several blocks during the market.

Pearly Grey designer Jen Nowak-Miller tries to stay warm in her booth where she marketed these eye-catching skirts and much more. I fell in love with the prints.  Jen loves them, too, and calls her  attraction to these an “addiction.” This talented designer, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Apparel Design and Manufacturing, also offers her retro/funky clothing designs online at  “It’s All Retro Baby.” She recently relocated from Oregon back to her native Wisconsin.

And so we set off from there to explore. I found myself lagging behind the daughter and husband as I chatted with vendors and took photos of this impressive market.

The Appleton Farm Market moves into City Center, the building pictured here on the right, beginning on the first Saturday in November.

I must qualify here that I’ve previously been to the indoor Appleton Farm Market at City Center. Although nice, you just don’t get the same vibe, the same variety, as an outdoor affair. And I think that could be said for any upper Midwest market that moves indoors in the colder, non-growing season.

This Saturday marks the year’s final outdoor venue (from 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.) in Appleton with the market moving into City Center from November through March (9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.). The trolley stopped running at the end of September.

This vendor pitched something about the last sweetcorn dance, so my daughter purchased six ears.

And so we walked block after block through downtown Appleton as shoppers scooped up the last of the year’s sweet corn crop, sampled BBQ on pork, clustered at knitters’ booths to slip warm mittens onto cold hands, purchased $10 bouquets of fresh flowers, speared toothpicks into cubes of Wisconsin cheese…

Piles of fresh carrots highlighted in the morning sunshine.

A shopper arrives on his bicycle and piles on the lettuce.

Ah, the bright colors of seasonal produce.

While the entertainment was limited to two young musicians under a canopy, our daughter says warmer weather brings more entertainers.

But on this Saturday in early October, the vendors and shoppers provided entertainment enough for this Minnesotan.

FYI: To learn more about the Appleton Farm Market and about downtown Appleton, click here and click here.

To learn more about the clothing designed by Jen Nowak-Miller, click here to link to her Pearly Grey, “It’s All Retro Baby,” website.

TO SEE MORE APPLETON FARM MARKET photos, keep scrolling:

Just one of the many, many vendors offering garden fresh produce.

Several crafty types sold mittens which proved popular with shoppers on the cold, cold morning. At this booth I spotted green and gold Packers mittens and told the vendor I couldn’t buy them because I was from Minnesota. Not missing a beat, and with a huge smile spreading across her face, she reached under her table, whipped out a pair of purple mittens and told me she’d just made them the previous evening.  You should have seen the surprised look on my face.

A father and son were selling these humorous candy corn faces they sawed from wood and painted.

Beautiful floral bouquets and only $10. Should have bought some for my daughter.

And just because I love flowers so much, here’s a close-up shot.

Every Wisconsin event needs brats, right?

I spotted this food truck on a side street just off College Avenue. I know in other cities, food trucks have become a point of contention for local restaurants during events. I don’t know how the restaurant owners in downtown Appleton feel about the food truck’s presence.

Happy Halloween from the same father-son duo who created the candy corn faces.

DISCLAIMER: I received a gift certificate from Downtown Appleton Inc. last year after posting about a previous visit to this city. That did not affect my decision to write again about Appleton nor the content of this post. And you can expect another story coming soon from Appleton on the Leonardo da Vinci exhibit there.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling