Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How about a diesel sandwich while you watch fireworks? June 30, 2014

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SEE SPOT RUN.

When I learned to read, I read about Dick, Jane and Sally and their dog, Spot. Plus their cat, Puff, and Sally’s teddy bear, Tim. And let’s not forget Mother and Father.

See Dick run. See Jane run. See Sally run. Did they ever walk?

Such were the exciting words printed upon the pages of my classroom primers.

So when I spot a “See Spot Run” sign along Wisconsin State Highway 21 near Omro, I think of learning to read, not canine services.

 

Wisconsin signs, Spot

 

But it’s a clever connection, isn’t it? Would you understand this stand-alone sign or would you, like me, have to Google “See Spot Run” to understand?

 

Wisconsin signs, diesel sandwich

 

Then there’s the most amusing of all signs further along the highway. It advertises diesel sandwiches at JB Sales with locations in Arkdale and Necedah. I’m certain the sign maker didn’t intend for the message to be read as “diesel sandwiches.” But that’s how my brain reads the words.

 

Wisconsin signs, steak

 

I’m still puzzling over another sign, this for Silvercryst, a fine dining establishment along Silver Lake near Wautoma that boasts GR8 steaks. Why wouldn’t you just spell out “great?” Because the sign is supposed to resemble a license plate apparently.

 

Wisconsin signs, cheese in Omro

 

There are lots of cheese sellers in Wisconsin vying for local and tourism dollars. So you have to make yourself stand out. And one cheese sign in particular, in Omro, catches my eye. Because of the cows.

 

Wisconsin signs, fireworks

 

Finally, you can’t travel Wisconsin without noticing an abundance of fireworks signs. There’s nothing too special about this Highway 21 sign, except the advertising of Demo Night on June 20. Is this demo deal common for fireworks places in Wisconsin? Tell me. I’m from Minnesota.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Patriotic goodness & more at an occasional shop in Farmington June 28, 2014

Vintage Marketplace in Farmington

Vintage Marketplace in Farmington

I HAPPENED UPON a sweet little shop in Farmington today.

Nancy, left, and Nita.

Nancy, left, and Nita.

Nancy, the owner, and Nita, who sells at Vintage Marketplace, provided a warm welcome for my husband and me who were out on one of our “drives.”

This occasional shop at 302 Oak Street in the heart of downtown, is packed with antiques, collectibles and crafty goodness.

A summery patriotic scene outside the shop.

A summery, patriotic scene outside the shop.

With the Fourth of July only days away, I turned my camera lens to all things red, white and blue. Be assured, though, that this marketplace is filled with lots of great finds, not just Fourth of July related merchandise.

Here’s a sampling of the patriotic goodness you will discover inside:

Fourth of July, AMERICA

 

Fourth of July, embroidered flag

 

Fourth of July, banners

 

Fourth of July, Statue of Liberty

 

Fourth of July, light and banners

 

Fourth of July, star

 

Fourth of July, flag on ladder

 

However…if you want to purchase anything showcased here, you will have exactly five hours to do so. Nancy’s shop opens at 11 a.m. tomorrow (Sunday, June 29) and closes at 4 p.m. Remember, hers is an occasional shop, meaning she’s open only two weekends a month and on the third Thursday for Ladies Night.

When the Vintage Marketplace reopens on July 17, it will be filled with completely new inventory, Nancy tells me.

This is definitely a shop worth visiting as much for the merchandise as the friendly crew who run it.

FYI: Learn more about Vintage Marketplace by clicking here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Entrepreneurs, inventors & more at Owatonna Farmer’s Market June 27, 2014

A snapshot scene from the Owatonna Farmer's Market, which covers one-block square Central Park.

A snapshot scene from the Owatonna Farmer’s Market, which covers one-block square Central Park.

AMONG THE VENDORS selling lettuce and rhubarb, onions and the season’s first strawberries and cherry tomatoes, between those marketing jars of salsa, hunks of cheese, pickled asparagus and root beer jelly, mixed with others showcasing embroidered dish towels and bird feeders and fleece blankets and so much more, there are those who offer something just a tad bit different at the Owatonna Farmer’s Market.

Gene Mosher talks to my husband, Randy, about his jar cover opener.

Gene Mosher talks to my husband, Randy, about his jar cover opener.

They are folks like Gene Mosher, who calls himself an inventor. On this Saturday morning, this Owatonna resident has set up a small table to peddle his product, the jar cover opener. Most shoppers simply pass him by.

Gene gives a demo.

Gene gives a demo. So the contents don’t spill when opened, Gene suggests screwing the opener onto a board and mounting it under a cupboard, for example.

But I stop to investigate the V-shaped metal tool which Gene claims will open those hard to open jars. He places a jar inside the saw-toothed grip and, with ease, unscrews the lid. I try. Success.

Slashed price.

Slashed price.

It’s late morning and Gene’s slashed the price from $15 to $10. This is his first time at the market. He has yet to sell a single opener; he’s always given them away. And he insists I take one, too.

I suggest he market his invention at the local senior center, taking the product to those most likely to purchase it. But Gene doesn’t seem too concerned. Pressed a bit, this long ago printer and then machining model maker will tell you about the mud covers he developed for race cars and the piston ring gapping machine which is now sold all over the world. He’s an inventor and tells me I’ve just made his day by stopping to check out the jar cover opener.

Selling the EZ Tomato Cage.

Selling the EZ Tomato Cage, which collapses for storage and also has extensions for those really tall tomato plants.

Just like Gene, gardeners Luther Hanson and Mark Gengler saw a need—for a better tomato cage—and created the EZ Tomato Cage. This 59-inch tall structure made of galvanized steel and aluminum parts appears about as strong as any tomato plant holder-upper I’ve ever seen.

Not that I have a need for this $20 per unit made in America product since I grow only two tomato plants in pots. But I think immediately of my middle brother and his wife who plant dozens of tomatoes and likely would appreciate such sturdy, and collapsible for storage, construction.

Rose Gehrke of Waterville  set up a stand to sell her homemade cupcakes.

Rose Gehrke of Waterville set up a stand to sell her homemade cupcakes.

Nearby, I am impressed by Rose Gehrke, a 15-year-old entrepreneur from Waterville who some day hopes to open a cupcake shop. On this morning, she is at the market with her dad and the 96 cupcakes she baked the day prior. Some 10 hours in the kitchen. Four homemade varieties including the absolutely delectable vanilla with raspberry filling topped by cream cheese frosting and the equally delicious chocolate with a cookie dough filling and cookie dough frosting.

Rosie Cakes cupcakes come with my endorsement.

Rosie Cakes cupcakes come with my endorsement.

Inspired by the television show, Cake Boss, and kids’ birthday party cupcakes, Rose learned to bake from her mom. Now she’s got her own business, Rosie Cakes, the start-up for her dream of one day owning a cupcake shop.

And because I believe in dreams and the young people who dream them, I purchase two $2 cupcakes from Rose of Rosie Cakes.

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BONUS FARMER’S MARKET PHOTOS:

Sweet little girls' dresses stitched by Judy Bliss.

Sweet little girls’ dresses stitched by Judy Bliss.

Dean, 11 months, snuggles against his mom's back while his parents shop at the Farmer's Market. The family recently moved from Houston, Texas, to Owatonna.

Dean, 11 months, snuggles against his mom’s back while his parents shop at the Farmer’s Market. The family recently moved from Houston, Texas, to Owatonna.

Plenty of plants were available for purchase at the market.

Plenty of plants were available for purchase at the market.

Vicki Mendez was selling her handmade LEGO crayons (available in several sizes)

Vicky Mendez of Vicky Lynn Designs was selling her hand-molded LEGO crayons (available in several sizes) plus lots of other merchandise.

Another shot of the busy market, which gets even busier once gardens really begin producing. Then vendors are set up along the sidewalk and on the grass.

Another shot of the busy market, which gets even busier once gardens really begin producing. Then vendors are set up along the sidewalk and on the grass. The massive building on the corner with the green trim is the most famous of Louis Sullivan’s banks and is called “a jewel box of the prairie” done in the Prairie School style of architecture. It’s a must-see if you’re ever in Owatonna.

FYI: The Owatonna Farmer’s Market is open from 7 a.m. – noon, May – October, at Central Park in the city’s downtown. It’s an impressive market.

 

In New Richland: Lots of good stuff at Wayne’s place June 26, 2014

Wayne Wenzel in the back workshop/office area of Dad's Good Stuff.

Wayne Wenzel in the back workshop/office area of Dad’s Good Stuff.

CALL HIM A CHARACTER or the ultimate BS-er or, simply, a man of quick wit. Whichever, Wayne Wenzel truly is all of these.

Dad's Good Stuff is located on a street corner in downtown New Richland, Minnesota, south of Waseca.

Dad’s Good Stuff is located on a corner of Broadway in downtown New Richland, Minnesota, south of Waseca.

And to locals, this proprietor of Dad’s Good Stuff, a long ago hardware store age-defined by worn wood floors and a wainscot ceiling, Wayne is much more.

Dad's Good Stuff, keys

You can get duplicate keys made here.

He’s the key maker, paint salesman, furniture refinisher, window and screen repairman and peddler of all things old in New Richland.

Lots and lots and lots of merchandise.

Lots and lots and lots of merchandise.

Poke around here long enough in the stashes of aged merchandise that create for narrow, barely-passable aisles, and you will find something you need.

A stack of colorful Fiesta ware awaits a buyer.

A stack of colorful Fiestaware awaits a buyer.

Wayne's store holds some wonderful antique furniture including the Murphy bed

Wayne’s store holds some wonderful antique furniture including the Murphy bed folded against the wall behind the white table.

Plenty of collectibles here.

Plenty of collectibles here.

Wayne will open the door of the oven here and show you the "pies" he made. Fake, of course.

Wayne will open the door of the oven here and show you the “pies” he made. Fake, of course.

Pottery for sale.

Pottery for sale.

From Red Wing chicken feeders to Pyrex casseroles, to a Murphy bed, vintage calendars, Fiestaware, John Deere collectible toy tractors and lots lots more, Wayne’s store is packed with good stuff. That is if you are into antiques and collectibles. Or need paint or paint supplies. Or a key. Or a piece of furniture refinished. Or…a bit of bull.

Wayne likely adheres to this sign.

Wayne likely adheres to this sign.

Throughout the building, tacked on walls and tucked into displays, signs showcase Wayne’s humor. Under a “Complaint Department—Push Button for Service” sign, this jokester has affixed a doctored mousetrap with a button.

High on a wall, Wayne informs shoppers: “This Wagon Tonng Was on the First Wells Fargo Stagecoatch that Came Thru N. R. and Latter Robbed by the James Brothers Frank & Jessy James.”

Now, if you believe that, you’ll believe that Wayne once won the Waseca County Spelling Bee.

My favorite of all Wayne's signs.

My favorite of all Wayne’s signs.

But remark to this jovial man about the handprinted “Our Surveillance.” warning posted next to a portrait of Christ peering downward, and his mood shifts. “He’s been good to us,” Wayne says, suddenly serious.

And I know he’s thinking of his son who died of a heart attack five years ago.

“They say time heals,” he’s told me earlier, his eyes watering. I listen and reassure Wayne that it’s OK to talk about Troy, to cry, that time doesn’t really heal. I wonder then how much pain this barrel-chested man hides behind his humor. The moment passes and he’s back at it, dishing out bull.

I’ve only just met Wayne. But he’s made me laugh more than I’ve laughed in a long time. That is his gift to the community of New Richland, to those who stop by Dad’s Good Stuff for paint or keys or collectibles or BS. Laughter. The good stuff.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Be sure to sign the guestbook next to this horse lamp when you walk in the front door.

Be sure to sign the guestbook next to this horse lamp when you walk in the front door.

Admire the aged wood floors.

Admire the aged wood floors.

Be careful what you touch. The varnish on this trunk was still drying when I visited. Table saws are set up about mid-way through the store for Wayne's woodworking projects.

Be careful what you touch. The varnish on this trunk was still drying when I visited. Table saws are set up about mid-way through the store for Wayne’s woodworking projects.

These, Wayne tells me, are his "computer files," handwritten cards detailing customers' paint purchases.

These, Wayne tells me, are his “computer files,” handwritten cards detailing customers’ paint purchases.

FYI: Current hours at Dad’s Good Stuff are from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Thursday, from 8 a.m. – noon Friday and Saturday, and Sundays by appointment. I’d suggest calling ahead (507-465-8551) if you’re traveling from any distance to shop here. Tell Wayne I sent you.

Check back for another post from New Richland.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tractors, bikes & covered wagons June 25, 2014

TIMING IS EVERYTHING. Or so they say.

Glancing out the cafe's front window, I noticed the tractorcade rolling into new Richland.

Glancing out the front window of the Red Leaf Cafe, I noticed the tractorcade rolling into New Richland.

Around noon on Saturday, just as my Philly steak sandwich, fries and coleslaw arrived at my table in the Red Leaf Cafe, I glanced out the street-side window to see tractors rolling into New Richland.

The tractors kept coming, not all under their own power.

The tractors kept coming, not all under their own power.

The tractorcade, which began three hours earlier 27 miles away at Farmamerica near Waseca, was parading into this southern Minnesota town. And I didn’t want to miss grabbing some quick shots of the tractor enthusiasts and their John Deere, Ford, International, Farmall and other tractors.

Driving through downtown New Richland.

Driving through downtown New Richland.

So I darted outside, fired off some frames and then headed back inside to eat.

One of the 20 or so old-time tractor enthusiasts.

One of the 20 or so old-time tractor enthusiasts.

Shortly thereafter, all those tractorcade participants filed into the restaurant. Timing is everything.

The BBQed rib special.

The BBQed rib special.

Regular diner Robert arrived soon afterward, securing the single vacant table next to the one occupied by my husband and me. But this local senior didn’t have to wait for his food. The crew at the Red Leaf Cafe knows that every Friday, Robert eats the fried fish. On Saturday he has the BBQ rib special. And on Sunday he wants chicken fried steak.

You have to love it—this small town life.

Some of the tractorcade diners.

Some of the tractorcade diners.

While the tractor collectors in their worn blue jeans, tractor t-shirts and tractor caps waited to order, Randy and I finished our meals, just as a parade of motorcycles rumbled into town.

Raising monies for those in the military.

Raising monies for those in the military and their families.

Two hundred of them, by one participant’s estimate, riding on a 100-mile Freedom Ride to raise monies for Minnesota’s active duty military families. They’ve raised $100,000 in seven years.

Bikes lined New Richland's downtown street.

Bikes lined New Richland’s downtown street.

Signs of support and service.

Signs of support and service.

One of the hundreds of bikers.

One of the hundreds of bikers.

Taking a break on the 100-mile ride.

Taking a break on the 100-mile ride.

Parking along three blocks of Broadway, the bikers, in their worn jeans and leather vests and Freedom Ride and other t-shirts, and with tattoos inked onto many arms, ambled toward a corner bar for beverages, then hung outside in the glorious sunshine of a hot and humid afternoon.

You have to love it—this slice of rural Americana, this appreciation for those who serve our country.

The Red Leaf Cafe in the heart of downtown offered an ideal vantage point to view the tractors and bikes.

The Red Leaf Cafe in the heart of downtown offered an ideal vantage point to view the tractors and bikes.

In that moment, that afternoon, New Richland seemed the place to be with old tractors to examine and motorcycles to admire.

Checking out the parked tractors.

Checking out the parked tractors.

We lingered and looked. And then, when a whistle shrilled marking time for the bikers to ready for departure, we hurried to our van, wanting to get ahead of the pack heading north, also our direction of departure.

Timing is everything.

A Wagon Train participant readies to leave Otisco.

A Wagon Train participant readies to leave Otisco.

The drive to Waseca should have been uneventful. But then, to the west, I spotted covered wagons lined up in Otisco as part of the annual Friendship Wagon Train fundraiser for Camp Winnebago. We detoured off the highway, drove through the train and then turned around. A quick look with no time to dally.

Waiting to leave Otisco.

Waiting to leave Otisco.

You have to love it—this gathering of horse lovers raising monies for a camp that serves children and adults with special needs.

We did not expect any of this as we set out on our Saturday afternoon drive. But that’s the joy of an unplanned day. The surprise of it all, the timing, the ability to simply enjoy whatever unfolds.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more posts from New Richland.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Looking for the best of the best in Southern Minnesota June 24, 2014

southern minnesota scene best of logoWHAT DO YOU LOVE about Southern Minnesota?

Now Southern Minn Scene, a regional arts publication/entertainment guide, is once again opening up nominations for the best restaurants, bars, music, theater, art, sports/outdoors, retail/services and miscellaneous offerings in our area of the state for 2014.

Who has the best fish fry or catering or BBQ in Southern Minnesota?

Where can you find the best Bloody Marys or happy hour?

Which music festival is a must-attend?

Who’s the best visual artist?

What would you rate as the best campground, sledding hill (yeah, I know, who wants to think winter) or bait/tackle shop?

What’s your go-to antique store?

And, finally, in the miscellaneous category, you can nominate “best ofs” like the best farmer’s market, best place to watch people and best blog/blogger (ahem, maybe Minnesota Prairie Roots).

From now through July 27, you can submit your choices. The top three to five nominees in each category will then be announced as finalists around August 1. Thereafter you will have until Labor Day to vote for the winner.

Simple and fun. And a great way to honor all the great people and places and things of Southern Minnesota.

Click here to begin the process of nominating your favorites in Southern Minnesota.

 

Minnesotans remember the Holocaust in traveling exhibit June 23, 2014

I READ IT IN THEIR STORIES. Courage. Hope. Strength. Fortitude. Survival.

I see it in the lines that etch deep into their faces, in their piercing eyes, in their hands. Courage. Hope. Strength. Fortitude. Survival.

Panels showcase portraits and stories.

Panels showcase portraits and stories.

They are men and women, now living in Minnesota, who survived the Holocaust.

On a recent Saturday, in Owatonna, a rural Minnesota community far removed from the horrible history of Nazis and concentration camps and atrocities against Jews, I was introduced to brave souls who endured almost unimaginable experiences to emerge with spirits still strong, hope alive, lives to live.

Holocaust survivor Leo Weiss.

Holocaust survivor Leo Weiss.

Eva, Ella, Sam, Walter, Paula, Anne, Joe, Trudy, Leo…

The Steele County History Center, 1700 Austin Road, Owatonna, is hosting "Transfer of Memory" through August 17.

The Steele County History Center, 1700 Austin Road, Owatonna, is hosting “Transfer of Memory” through August 17. Museum admission charges apply.

Thirty-five impressive portraits by photographer David Sherman and accompanying information written by Lili Chester tell the stories of these Holocaust survivors in the traveling exhibit, “Transfer of Memory.” The show, created in partnership with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, will remain at the Steele County History Center until August 17.

Their stories will touch you.

Their stories will touch you.

I’m especially pleased that this exhibit is showing in Owatonna, offering southeastern Minnesota residents like myself the opportunity to view the portraits and read the stories without traveling into the Twin Cities metro.

Panels of portraits and stories define "Transfer of Memory."

Panels of portraits and stories define “Transfer of Memory.”

As I perused the panels of photos, plucking laminated story cards from below the portraits, I found myself immersed in the personal stories of survival and lessons learned. Hands gripped to prevent separation. Warnings given to save lives. Lying about age and religion to save one’s self. Death and marches and sickness. Horrible horrible stories.

Hope in a story.

In their words: hope.

But always hope. Hope and faith and more allowed these individuals to survive such awful atrocities.

I wonder if I would have possessed the willpower to continue on, to overcome, as they did.

Survivor portraits and stories impress.

Survivor portraits and stories impress.

These Holocaust survivors offer not only their experiences, but their introspection. Therein lies the power of this exhibit:

Don’t hate, it is a terrible thing. Everyone is born innocent. There is no reason to hate.—  Eva Gross

The United State presents to me and all our sons and daughter (s) an equal opportunity. Have patience, make an effort and be tolerant.—  Sam Rafowitz

The potential of (evil) is there in all of us if we do not remember the past.—  Lucy Smith

FYI: If you are unable to view this exhibit in person, click here to see the portraits and read the stories online.

Permission was secured from curators Laura Zelle and Susie Greenberg and from photographer David Sherman to use these photos of Sherman’s work and the exhibit quotes published here. Original exhibit photos and text are copyrighted.