Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Parenting: Letting go & moving on August 20, 2013

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THIS WAS OUR WEEKEND:

My husband photographs our eldest daughter and her fiance in front of the rental house that will soon be their new home.

My husband photographs our eldest daughter and her fiance in front of the rental house that will soon be their new home.

Saturday my husband and I helped our eldest daughter and her fiance move her belongings from south Minneapolis to the other twin city and the rental house they will share after their upcoming marriage.

The first van full of our son's belongings ready to be carried into our house.

The first van full of our son’s belongings ready to be carried into our house.

On Sunday we drove an hour southeast to pick up the first van load of our son’s possessions, to move back home to Faribault. In about a week, he flies out to Boston to start classes at Tuft’s University after a summer of working at IBM in Rochester and a year at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

It’s a bittersweet time for us, the parents.

The living room of the engaged couple's rental house.

The living room of the engaged couple’s rental house.

We are delighted that our daughter has found the love of her life. Yet, if I’m honest, there’s also a certain sadness in the realization that the 27 ½ years since her birth have passed, snap, just like that.

Likewise, the 19 ½ years since our son’s birth have passed, snap, just like that. Now he is flying 1,400 miles away to pursue his education, his dreams.

The other daughter lives 5 ½ hours away in northeastern Wisconsin. Nearly three years have passed, snap, just like that, since she finished college, completed an internship in Argentina and moved to Wisconsin for her job as a Spanish medical interpreter.

I suppose all empty nesters go through this phase, this wondering of how the years vanished, how we’ve grown in to the elders with gray hairs and lines creasing our foreheads. It is a time of adjustment and change for our entire family.

The kids no longer live at home, but our house has become a storage facility for some of their possessions like these belongings moved into our living room and then upstairs.

The kids no longer live at home, but our house has become a storage facility for some of their possessions like the son’s belongings moved into our living room and then upstairs. Where to put all of this stuff…and the rest yet to come in the second load.

There are times when I wish I could swoop my trio in, bring them all back, keep them close, turn the clock back.

A dear friend, who is the mother of four ranging in age from almost three to 14, asked how I did it, how I let go. I advised her to start when the kids are young, allowing them little by little to spread their wings. Sunday School and church camp. Nights out with my husband, leaving the kids in the care of a capable babysitter. Annual overnight get-aways for the kids with doting aunts and uncles. Then later, mission trips to Texas and to national church youth gatherings. Volunteer trips to help with hurricane relief. Trips overseas during high school (for one) and in college.

I specifically recall my eldest’s announcement only weeks in to her freshman year at Winona State University that she was joining a spring break mission trip to Paraguay. “Where’s that?” I asked.

I won’t lie. It was not always easy to see my three venture across the U.S. and abroad. It wasn’t even easy when I sent my eldest, as a kindergartner, to church camp a half hour drive away. It isn’t easy now putting my youngest on a plane to Boston. Yet with each letting go, I learned that I could entrust my children to the care of others, that they needed to achieve independence, to experience new things, to grow—away from me and their dad.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on writing a winning poem August 19, 2013

EVERY TIME I PEN a poem, I wonder, will it inspire, touch, resonate with the reader? Is my poem worthy to be seen by others? Is the poem truly finished, ready to reveal? Or should I hold on to it longer, refine it, anguish over whether I’ve chosen the right word, the right phrase?

At some point I must tell myself, “You’re done.” I must make that leap of faith, overcome those self doubts and share what I’ve written.

For me that usually comes in entering a poetry competition. Even if I’m confident I’ve written a decent poem, it’s still scary to put yourself out there. But I have and I’ve discovered, in the process, that I can write poetry.

My award.

My most recent award. You can click on the “About” section of my blog to see the other honors I’ve garnered for my poetry. Photo courtesy of Sue Ready.

That was reaffirmed for me again this past Saturday when my poem, “Lilacs,” was selected as one of six Works of Merit in the sixth annual Poetry Recognition Event during the Northwoods Art and Book Festival in Hackensack.

Attendees at the Northwoods Art & Book Festival view showcased poems and then vote for their favorite in the Popular Choice awards.

Attendees at the Northwoods Art & Book Festival view showcased poems and then vote for their favorite in the Popular Choice awards. Photo courtesy of Sue Ready.

I’m in the company of other Minnesota poets, Louise Bottrell, Marlys Guimaraes, Miriam Kagol, Joanne Moren and Candace Simar, chosen by a poetry committee for the merit honor.

Lilac, close-up

Sweet lilacs.

As I often do, I turned to my past, to my memories of growing up on a southwestern Minnesota farm, to write “Lilacs.” I remembered the annual gathering of lilacs from the bush on my Uncle Mike’s farm, the next field over. And I connected that memory to today:

Lilacs

Breathing in the heady scent of lilacs each May,
I remember my bachelor uncle and the gnarled bushes,
heavy with purple blooms, that embraced his front porch
and held the promises of sweet love never experienced.

He invited his sister-in-law, my mother, to clip lilacs,
to enfold great sweeps of flowers into her arms,
to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table,
romance perfuming our cow-scented farmhouse.

Such memories linger as my own love, decades later,
pulls a jackknife from the pocket of his stained jeans,
balances on the tips of his soiled Red Wing work shoes,
clips and gathers great sweeps of lilacs into his arms.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

To read poems by two of the other merit winners, click here to reach the website of Poetry Committee Chair Sue Ready, herself a poet. The winning poems will also be published in Hackensack area newspapers.

I am grateful to those like Sue and others and to the Northwoods Arts Council, which sponsors events like that in Hackensack. Without these opportunities, I might still be that poet wondering if my poetry rates as good enough for anyone to read other than me.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Paul Bunyan land: Hackensack hosts art and book fest August 16, 2013

Every Tuesday during the summer months, Hackensack hosts a kids' fishing contest.

Every Tuesday during the summer months, Hackensack hosts a kids’ fishing contest on Birch Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IT’S A SWEET SMALL TOWN snugged in Minnesota’s northwoods north of Brainerd, half way to Bemidji.

This would be lumberjack Paul Bunyan.

This would be lumberjack Paul Bunyan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

You’ll find statues of legendary Paul Bunyan here…

Paul Bunyan's sweetheart, Lucette, stands next to the library along Birch Lake.

Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette, stands next to the library along Birch Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

and of his bride, Lucette. She stands near Birch Lake, next to an old log cabin that houses a library run by volunteers.

Several summers ago I photographed this log cabin library in Hackensack.

The Hackensack library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It’s no wonder Hackensack, home to not quite 300 permanent and who knows how many seasonal residents, will host its 18th annual Northwoods Art & Book Festival from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. this Saturday, August 17.

I’ll be there. Sort of.

I’ve submitted two poems to the Sixth Annual Poetry Display/Recognition, as I’ve done for several years.

Fest-goers can peruse the poems inside the Union Congregational Church and vote for their favorites for the six Popular Choice awards. The poetry committee will also select six Works of Merit. Poets will read their poems beginning at 1:30 p.m. with award winners announced afterward. Local newspapers will publish the winning poems.

A collection of works by eight Minnesota writers.

A collection of works by eight Minnesota writers.

But there’s more. Twenty-plus Minnesota authors and poets will sign and sell their books throughout the day. Sweet. Any event that promotes Minnesota writers and artists gets my support. Among the literary offerings is Bards of a Feather Write Together—A Collection. It features the poetry, fiction and memoirs, some previously published, of eight Minnesota writers, all members of the writing group Bards of a Feather. I am currently reading this debut anthology and thoroughly enjoying the variety of voices and content therein.

Visual artists will also be part of the Hackensack fest, selling their original artwork. Original and created by the artist. No resale items. Splendid.

No Minnesota festival is complete without food, which you’ll find in the food court.

I wish I could join this celebration of Minnesota writers and artists. But distance and previous commitments won’t allow me to be there. My poems will have to do. For this year.

FYI: For more information, click here to reach the Northwoods Arts Council website. The council is the festival sponsor.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of Bards of a Feather Write Together for review purposes.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering a drive-in movie theatre in Luverne & a nation-wide effort to save these icons August 15, 2013

A FEW WEEKS AGO, while traveling specifically to Luverne in the southwestern corner of Minnesota to tour the Brandenburg Gallery and Blue Mounds State Park, I discovered a vanishing icon of American culture.

That would be a drive-in movie theatre on the south edge of town just off Interstate 90.

Verne Drive-in entry sign

The Verne Drive-In Theater, built in the 1950s, is one of only a few drive-ins remaining in Minnesota. Others include the Long Drive-In in Long Prairie, the Starlite 5 Drive-In Theatre in Litchfield, the Vali-Hi Drive-In in Lake Elmo and Sky-Vu Drive In in Warren. I think I’ve covered them all.

Nearly a year ago, the Cottage View Drive-In in Cottage Grove, in a controversial move, was closed and the land sold for construction of a Walmart store. (Click here to see Minnesota Public Radio photos of a September 2012 event celebrating the Cottage View’s 46-year history.)

Although I didn’t see a show at the Verne Drive-In, my husband and I drove through the vacant theatre parking lot on a Saturday morning just to check out the place and reminisce. We went to a few outdoor movies together when our community of Faribault still had a drive-in theatre. We also each attended drive-in movies separately while growing up. Me in Redwood Falls and he once in the Little Falls area and then near Brainerd.

Verne Drive-in, screen w filmstrip

I expect most of you hold on to some drive-in movie memories whether its cramming into the trunk of a car, making out with a long forgotten boyfriend or girlfriend, waiting in line for a concession stand snack or burger, tuning in to a movie via those little boxes stationed throughout the gravel parking lot, piling the kids into the car in their jammies for a night out under the stars…

At the Verne Drive-In a young couple, who went on their first date at the drive-in four years ago, recently became engaged there.

Drive-in theatres, most assuredly, are a part of our history, our culture, our growing up years and our personal memories.

Verne Drive-In exit sign film strip

Once commonplace in communities across the country, drive-ins are vanishing with only 368 remaining in the U.S., according to Project Drive-In established by Honda Motor Company. Honda, via an online and texting voting process, is giving away digital movie projectors to five drive-in theatres. The goal is simple: to save as many drive-ins as possible.

The financial challenge for drive-ins today lies in the need to switch to digital projection by the end of 2013, an upgrade which costs an estimated $80,000.

For theatres like the one in Luverne, winning a free digital projector through the Project Drive-In giveaway would be huge. You can vote online and/or via texting for these two Minnesota drive-ins daily for the next 25 days: the Verne Drive-In or the Long Drive-In. Click here for more information.

Project Drive-In also includes opportunities to donate monies toward saving our nation’s drive-ins and to pledge to go to a drive-in movie theatre. Win. Win.

WHAT MEMORIES DO YOU have of drive-in movie theatres? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Kitschy Minnesota county fair art in Morris August 14, 2013

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I MAY HAVE MISSED attending the Stevens County Fair in Morris when I was in this western Minnesota community for a family reunion this past weekend.

Fair, front view of sign

But I didn’t miss this kitschy piece of fair advertising positioned on the corner of the Family Dollar parking lot downtown.

Fair, exhibits chair

I expect most of the locals are so used to seeing this mini Ferris wheel rolled out every summer that they think nothing of it. However, as an outsider and one who appreciates such homegrown creativity, this certainly caught my attention.

Fair, end view

My two regrets are these:

That I could not attend the fair because, even though I am not a fan of tromping around a fairgrounds among a crowd of people, I expect this rural fair would have appealed to me.

I did not see this Ferris wheel brightened by the holiday lights attached to the frame. In my mind’s eye, I can visualize the Christmas bulbs popping with color in the fading prairie sunset.

Fair, demo chair

THAT ALL SAID, if any current or former Stevens County residents can enlighten me as to the history of this homemade Ferris wheel, please share. Who made it, when, has it always been parked downtown…?

Fair, food chair

And what about the fair itself? What do you love about the Stevens County Fair?

For the rest of you readers, did/will you attend a county fair this summer? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gathering with the in-laws at the annual family reunion August 13, 2013

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Grandma Cheryl and Grandpa Roger help 6-month-old Aston make a luminary.

Grandma Cheryl and Grandpa Roger help 5-month-old grandson Aston with artwork on a luminary.

I AM BLESSED beyond measure to be a part of extended families who still care enough about the connections of blood lines and histories to reunite each summer.

This past weekend my husband, 19-year-old son and I headed north and west to the annual Helbling family reunion, this year in Morris. Our daughters, one of whom is preoccupied with wedding plans and packing to move while the other lives 10 hours from western Minnesota, could not attend. But I am used to that, having my own three together only once or twice a year.

Cousins and a cousin-in-law going strong in the gunny sack race until...

Cousins and a cousin-in-law going strong in the gunny sack race until…

...the brothers wipe out.

…the brothers wipe out.

Seeing my in-laws and their families, including lots of little ones, always proves a fun time from conversation to laughter and, this year, a few old-fashioned games tossed into the mix. No I did not participate. I am smarter than that.

The weather in Morris proved perfect with sunshine and intermittent clouds and temps more befitting of September than August. But I am not complaining. I love this kind of weather.

It was the perfect weekend, in so many ways.

My great nephew Cameron eyes the bocce balls.

My great nephew Cameron reaches for a Bocce ball rather than the smaller (and safer) child-sized balls.

Husband and wife team, right; my son and his godmother, middle; and niece and nephew-in-law line up for a three-legged race.

Husband (my nephew) and wife team, right; my son and his godmother (my sister-in-law), middle; and my niece and nephew-in-law line up for a three-legged race.

The final, ahem, leg of the race. The son and godmother were lagging way behind.

The final, ahem, leg of the race. The son and godmother were lagging way behind.

My nephew Nate tends to his nephew, Tristan, following a hand injury during a gunny sack race.

My nephew Nate tends to his nephew, Tristan, following a hand injury during a gunny sack race.

We all designed luminaries, including this one by my nephew-in-law Jason with his favorite quote, one that sits on his work desk.

We all designed luminaries, including this one by my nephew-in-law Jason with his favorite quote, one that sits on his work desk.

Jason and Jocelyn's oldest daughter, my great niece Meghan, works on her luminary.

Jason and Jocelyn’s oldest daughter, my great niece Meghan, works on her luminary.

Laughter and conversation around the campfire.

Laughter and conversation around the campfire.

The family luminaries light the path from the campfire and up the driveway to my sister-in-law and brother-in-law's home in Morris.

The family luminaries light the path from the campfire up the driveway to my sister-in-law and brother-in-law’s home in Morris.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I hate traveling around the Twin Cities on a summer weekend August 12, 2013

“OH, THE PLACES you’ll go…you can steer yourself any direction you choose…”

Apparently Dr. Seuss has never driven through the Twin Cities metro on a weekend, especially this last one.

You could not go any direction you chose due to road construction. Everywhere.

On Saturday morning, heading north from Faribault on Interstate 35 and then eventually northwest on Interstates 494 and 94, my husband, son and I encountered gridlock, as in stopped traffic or traffic moving at a 20 mph maximum for mile beyond endless mile. I have never seen the traffic situation this bad in 30 years of occasionally traveling these three interstates.

It all started near Lakeville, where we crept along to the I-35 Burnsville split.

But pity the poor motorists backed up even further as the sound bound lanes of 35 were shut down completely for the entire weekend. After viewing the miles and miles of stopped traffic there, we opted for an alternative route home on Sunday (more on that in a minute).

Back to Saturday morning. Before the river bridge in Burnsville, north bound traffic finally opened up. Yeah. Little did we know…the worst was yet to come.

Not long after exiting 35 onto 494 west bound, which for once was not a harrowing experience of trying to shoehorn our van into traffic, we encountered more delays. Again, road construction is to blame along with the usual heavy weekend traffic. All told, travel time from Faribault to Monticello totaled nearly two hours. Usual drive time is maybe an hour and 20 minutes.

The only two positives in all of this: At least everyone was creeping along, meaning no crazy motorists driving like maniacs and/or weaving in and out of traffic. And roads are being improved.

Four hours later, following a brief stop at a rest stop, we reached our destination, a family reunion in Morris.

The reunion was great (photos of that forthcoming tomorrow). But the thought of returning home through the metro on Sunday afternoon, not so much. We knew the traffic then would be even worse with motorists heading back into the Cities from a weekend up north.

My husband’s oldest sister, after sharing a story of how she and her husband once sat for 40 minutes on a metro interstate on a Sunday afternoon without moving, proved the deciding factor in taking the long back way home. At least we would be moving.

So near St. Cloud, we exited 94 on Sunday and followed Minnesota Highway 15 all the way to Winthrop. Seems other motorists had the same idea. Yeah. But at least we were moving.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault. Nothing compared to metro road construction and the major traffic snarl-ups there. Sorry, but I failed to photograph the interstate gridlock.

Five hours later, following a lunch break and a stop to purchase fresh veggies at a roadside stand, we drove into Faribault and, ta da, more road construction. In the nearly 30 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen this much road work on major roadways (Minnesota Highways 60 and 21) in my community. Not quite metro area gridlock, but…

DO YOU HAVE ANY stories to share about traffic in the Twin Cities metro this past weekend?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A watercolor photo of an historic Minnesota library

HE’S PULLED INTO the 15-minute parking spot in front of the library on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I wait in the front passenger seat as my husband dashes inside to return a DVD and pick up a book for me.

I am grateful for his consideration, that I am not the one racing up the sidewalk in the rain.

As I watch the rain glide in sheets across the windshield, I notice how the old stone library, with its signature stained glass windows, appears distorted. The colored windows, in soft shades of rose and wheat, seem undefined, as if brushed in watercolor.

In that moment I stretch downward, reaching for the camera bag at my feet, considering that the dreamy scene unfolding before me might just make for an interesting image. Leaning slightly back, I aim my camera lens upward and snap several photos.

I don’t know what to expect. But later, when I upload the images into my computer, I am pleased to see the surreal first frame exactly as I had hoped. Dreamy. Like a painting.

This marks an epiphany for me as a photographer. When I am willing to think beyond the confines of a neat, orderly, precise photo, the unexpected happens. And it’s  magic.

An unedited image of Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault as taken through the front windshield of our family car while rain was falling. The unusual hue of the sky is from the tint in the windshield.

FYI: The 1929 Thomas Scott Buckham Memorial Library, built of Kasota stone, was designed in the Art Deco style by Charles Buckham of Vermont and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Anna Buckham gifted the library to the city of Faribault in memory of her husband, Thomas Buckham, a prominent local judge and avid Greek scholar with a special interest in the arts.

Anna Buckham chose a Greek theme for the library which includes a Greek window designed by world-renowned stained glass artist Charles Connick of Boston.

In the library’s Great Room, Alfred J. Hyslop, a former art professor at Carleton College in Northfield, painted four Greek murals depicting scenes from Olympia, Athens, Sparta and Delphi.

And, yes, I really should photograph the Connick window and murals to show you. I see this library, use this library, all the time. I’ve simply grown complacent to its artful beauty.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A bear sighting in Faribault August 10, 2013

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Bear

UNLIKE SOME BLOGGERS I know (click here), I do not have to travel all the way to Wyoming to see a bear. I photographed this bear at the intersection of a four-lane highway and a busy street in a commercial area of Faribault Wednesday evening. The A & W bear almost seamlessly blends in with the road construction environment.

No need to be alert, make noise, carry bear spray or avoid hiking alone or running.

This bear, offering free root beer floats, seemed much too friendly for those worries.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tis the season… August 9, 2013

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Kandy corn for sale in Slayton

…in Slayton and elsewhere in Minnesota.