Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

It’s a toilet, not a trash can November 14, 2014

THIS AD APPEARED in the November 6 issue of The Gaylord Hub:

 

City of Gaylord

 

Now, will someone please tell me how you manage to flush a diaper, rag or mophead down the toilet?

Apparently it’s possible.

You best listen up, Gaylord, Minnesota, residents. There’s no point in purposely flushing tax dollars down the toilet.

Gaylord officials are not alone in their concern about what goes down the toilet. Just google “don’t flush down the toilet” and you’ll discover many other communities and agencies, like Portland, Oregon, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, and the Portland (Maine) Water District Office, educating the public about flushing.

“Save your pipes: Don’t flush baby wipes!”, the creative campaign of the Maine agency, specifically targets baby wipes as a prime pipe plugging problem. The website mixes humor–be sure to watch the game show “What the FLUSH?!?”–with facts to deliver the message on what to flush and what not. You can even take a pledge to save your pipes.

Bottom line: You can flush human waste and toilet paper down the toilet. That’s it. Pretty simple to remember, huh?

 

 

 

In which I meet a Wisconsin blacksmith November 13, 2014

DARKNESS AND RED-HOT HEAT and banging of metal against metal…

T-C Latane, 412 Second Street in Pepin, Wisconsin.

T-C Latane, 412 Second Street in Pepin, Wisconsin.

Memories of accompanying my farmer father to the blacksmith shop in my hometown of Vesta flash through my mind as I step into the shop of Tom Latané in Pepin, Wisconsin.

Blacksmith Tom Latane talks about his craft  in the front part of his shop. Behind him are examples of his work.

Blacksmith Tom Latane talks about his craft in the front part of the shop he shares with his wife, Catherine. Behind him are examples of his work. Several artisans sells their wares here.

My husband and I have stopped here on a mid-week October afternoon during a brief get-away. By chance, we have found this life-long blacksmith in his shop where anvils and vises, buckets and axe and tools of the trade crowd the brick-floored space.

Tom splits wood in the area where he blacksmiths.

Tom splits wood in the area where he blacksmiths.

While Tom rapid-splits wood for a forge fire, I scan this grimy room with a good luck horseshoe clamped on brick above a neatly lined shelf of corralled chisels.

Hardware crafted by Tom.

Hardware crafted by Tom.

Tom also works with wood, sometimes combining wood and metal in pieces.

Tom also works with wood, sometimes combining wood and metal in pieces.

Tom created this candleholder.

Tom created this candleholding masterpiece.

Standing here in this time, in this place, with a man practicing the aged craft of blacksmithing seems almost surreal. But Tom has been doing this all his adult life, relocating from Maryland to open his Pepin shop in 1983 with his wife, Catherine, a tinsmith.

Two of Catherine's cookie cutters.

Two of Catherine’s cookie cutters.

She’s a native of Minnesota, just across the river, and an artist, too, who crafts tin cookie cutters by hand. Catherine is known for her commemorative Laura Ingalls Wilder cookie cutters in a community that each year celebrates its most famous native daughter.

An anvil in Tom's shop.

An anvil in Tom’s shop.

Surely blacksmith shops existed in this area during the late 1860s when Charles and Caroline Ingalls lived with their family in a cabin in the Big Woods near Pepin.

Tom looks the part of a craftsman.

Tom looks the part of a craftsman.

History holds this town. And Tom looks every bit the part of a long ago craftsman, untamed white beard and longish hair and period cap and suspenders giving him the appearance of a historic reenactor. But he is authentic, hand-forging locks, hardware, tools and candle fixtures.

Symbols of the trade for blacksmithing and tin cutting.

Symbols of the trade for blacksmithing and tin cutting.

I almost expect Charles Ingalls to walk in the door.

A sign at the shop.

A sign at the shop.

FYI: For more information about T. & C. Latané, as this couple calls their business, click here. The shop at 412 Second Street in Pepin is open from noon – 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, May – December or by chance.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A peek at Pepin, Wisconsin November 12, 2014

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Closed on an early October weekday afternoon...

Closed on an early October weekday afternoon…

A MONTH AGO, on a weekday afternoon, Pepin, Wisconsin, already appeared battened up for the long winter.

The scene outside of an eatery.

The scene outside of an eatery.

Lovely business signage.

Lovely business signage.

A banner advertised a forthcoming film festival.

A banner advertised a forthcoming film festival.

Lawn chairs stacked. Doors locked. Streets mostly vacant.

Pepin's grocery store.

Pepin’s grocery store.

A general sense of abandonment prevailed in the downtown area along Lake Pepin, although the blacksmith shop happened to be open (watch for a story on that) as was the next door grocery.

Street signage indicates lots of places to stop in Pepin.

Street signage indicates lots of places to stop in Pepin.

I expect had it been a summer weekend, more businesses would have been open and the town bustling.

Across the railroad tracks lies Lake Pepin.

Across the railroad tracks lies Lake Pepin.

But, like many lake communities, life slows when the temperature drops and autumn edges toward winter.

Unlike the museum, which closes in October, A Summer Place Bed and Breakfast

Signage advertises A Summer Place Inn.

In this, the birthplace of author Laura Ingalls Wilder, even her museum has closed for the season.

This is reality in the north land, in a river town that relies significantly on warm weather tourism.

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AND NOW FOR TWO PLACES on the edge of Pepin that were open:

The Country Stop.

The Country Stop of Pepin Country Store.

Villa Bellezza winery.

Villa Bellezza winery.

Beautiful potted flowers outside the winery.

Beautiful potted flowers and plants outside the winery.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In honor of our veterans November 11, 2014

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“A CELEBRATION TO HONOR America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”

That, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, is the purpose of Veterans Day.

Veterans participate in the program.

Veterans participated in a special program dedicating a private veterans’ memorial in rural Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Today, pause to remember and/or thank a veteran for upholding those values. Perhaps it is your spouse who is deserving of your gratitude or your neighbor or co-worker, brother or sister…

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

We all know veterans. My father fought as a front-line infantryman in the Korean War. My brother-in-law, Neil, just returned from deployment to Afghanistan. Many more family members have served, too.

It is easy to take our freedom for granted when living in the United States of America. Freedom. To speak, write, come and go…

Last week I read the obituary of U.S. Army veteran and Faribault resident Paul Gray, 84, who served in Korea. I was surprised to read that Gray had been held as a Prisoner of War for 33 months. I’d never before considered the capture of Americans during that conflict. Gray’s POW experience, the obit stated, “was a tremendous influence in providing the inner strength he carried with him throughout his life.”

I can only image the strength it would take to endure nearly three years in captivity.

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe.

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe, and others who died in service to their country. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Then I wondered how many other Americans were taken prisoner. According to the National Park Service website, more than 7,100 Americans were captured and held during the Korean War. Of those, more than 2,700 were known to have died.

An article on the subject states in part:

Life as a POW meant many forced marches in subfreezing weather, solitary confinement, brutal punishments and attempts at political “re-education.” Here prisoners received their first systematic dose of indoctrination techniques by their captors. This was a relatively new phenomena and resulted in the Code of Conduct that now guides all American servicemen in regards to their capture.

An additional 8,000 plus American soldiers were reported as missing in action in Korea. That’s 8,000 too many.

More tributes on the exterior of the Happy Hour Bar.

Tributes to veterans are posted throughout Montgomery, Minnesota, including these on the exterior of the Happy Hour Bar. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Thank a veteran today and remember their families, who also have sacrificed for freedom.

FYI: Click here to read about Montgomery, Minnesota’s way of honoring veterans.

Click here to read how Minnesota teen Heather Weller honors veterans.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Abandoned November 10, 2014

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DO YOU EVER WONDER, as I do, about the history of a place?

Look at this old farm site in the area of Ellsworth in western Wisconsin:

 

Rural, old farmstead

 

Imagine the farmer who settled here, proud to own a piece of land. Consider how he labored to build a barn and a house and then erected a windmill.

The windmill once stood proud, fins catching the wind, providing energy to pump water from the well. An old pump remains dwarfed in the presence of the now bladeless windmill.

The barn, with numerous additions, seemingly defies age in her strong, straight rooflines. But her windows are boarded, her roof rusted.

Mismatch of fence panels askew presents a certain disconnected visual chaos.

Was it illness or lack of money or a non-caring attitude or none of the above that caused this farm site to fall into disrepair and apparent abandonment?

What happened to the house? Who drove the vintage car? Where are the horses? So many questions and no answers.

The place is for sale, or maybe it’s just the car and/or manure spreader.

What is the story of this farm? Every place, every person, writes a story.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hey, Minnesota and Wisconsin, are you ready? November 9, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:37 PM
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FIRST SIGNIFICANT SNOWSTORM of the season…

As I snapped this photo from my living room window, this pick-up truck slid on the snowy street.

I could be looking out my living room window tomorrow at a scene like this from February 2014 as the first snowfall of the season moves into my area of southeastern Minnesota.

I keep hoping the forecasters are wrong in their prediction for a “potent storm system” developing in Minnesota this evening and continuing into Monday/Tuesday. But it appears they are not based on the latest updates from the National Weather Service.

Snow falling at a rate of one to two inches an hour is predicted in this system which will stretch from the western border of Minnesota into Wisconsin.

Travel will be impacted. You think?

Total accumulations of up to a foot of heavy, wet snow are expected. My county of Rice is on the borderline of 4 – 8 or 8 – 12 inches. It appears places to the north, like the Twin Cities an hour away, will get the most.

My husband blowing out our driveway.

My husband blowing out our driveway. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2013.

Snow shovels are in place. Gas can has been filled. Snowblower is at the ready.

You can almost sense the anticipation. A major Big Box retailer was a zoo yesterday and looked equally as busy today. And, let me tell you, the grocery store was not the place to shop this morning after church.

It’s as if everyone is stocking up, preparing to hunker down, realizing that tomorrow’s efforts will be focused on snow removal and staying off the roads.

Be safe everyone.

Snow flies as Randy works the snowblower down the driveway. Fortunately we are not without power, although the lights flickered numerous times Thursday evening.

Clearing our driveway. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

IF YOU LIVE in Minnesota or Wisconsin, how are you prepping for Monday’s mega storm? Are you ready?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Color confusion November 7, 2014

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Owatonna stoplight sign

DOWNTOWN OWATONNA, MINNESOTA:

The word reads “GREEN.”

But the visual is blue…

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mayberry, Wisconsin, or not November 6, 2014

Necedah, downtown and patrol car

 

IF BUT FOR A FEW MOMENTS, I feel like I’ve walked onto the Main Street of Mayberry, North Carolina, circa 1960s.

 

Necedah, close-up patrol car

 

You know, fictional home of Andy Griffith, local level-headed sheriff who dispensed justice and wisdom once a week alongside his inept sidekick, Deputy Barney Fife.

 

Necedah, funeral home

 

I’d like to believe Mayberry existed, still exists, in places outside my black-and-white television sitcom memories of some 50 years ago.

 

Boys going fishing in Wisconsin

 

That could be Andy’s son, Opie, and friend ambling across the highway with fishing poles and bucket in hand. The scene seems more flashback than reality.

But all of these images are reality—in Necedah, a community of some 930 residents located about half way between LaCrosse and Oshkosh on Wisconsin State Highway 21. The town rests near two lakes and the Wisconsin and Yellow rivers. Fishing opportunities abound.

 

Necedah, shrine

 

And so does the opportunity to explore the Queen of the Holy Rosary Mediatrix of Peace Shrine. It is here that the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to Mary Ann Van Hoof, farm wife and mother of eight, on November 12, 1949. Over 34 years, the Mother of God supposedly told Mary Ann to “bring the truth to all people” with a focus on youth.

You can choose to believe this or not. The intention of this shrine seems wholesome enough and I expect many have been blessed simply by visiting this reverent site.

But when I read a sign requesting that women wearing shorts or slacks stop at the office for a wrap-around skirt, I thought surely I must be in Mayberry, North Carolina, circa 1960s.

Shortly thereafter, I left.

(These photos were shot in May 2014 and August 2011.)

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photographic journey through rural western Wisconsin November 5, 2014

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Rural, red barn, bin and field

 

SHADOWS AND CURVES AND LIGHT.

 

Rural, round bales

Sky.

Rural, harvested cornfield

Land.

Rural, white barn and silos

Farm buildings.

All draw my eyes to the landscape, my hand to the camera, eye to the viewfinder, finger to shutter button.

 

Rural, red barn and Harvestores

 

Flash of color: A red barn.

 

Rural, red barn, fields and grey sheds

 

Rural scenes unfold before me on this drive through western Wisconsin, from Nelson north to St. Croix Falls in early October.

 

Rural, red barn and lone cow

 

I am linked to the land by my past, daughter of a southwestern Minnesota crop and dairy farmer. Even after 40 years away from the farm, fields and farm sites hold my heart more than any grid of city blocks or cluster of homes or urban anything.

If I could, I would live in the country again, close to the scent of dried corn stalks and fertile black soil.

 

Rural, house by trees

 

I would live under a sky that overwhelms, inside a white farmhouse with a welcoming front porch. That was always my dream.

But dreams cost money. Instead, I have lived in an old house along an arterial street in a town of some 23,000 for 30 years. I am grateful to have a house, to live in a community I love among dear friends.

 

Rural, country church and cemetery

 

Still, a part of my soul yearns, aches for the land I left.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My health insurance premium goes through the roof & I’m mad as… November 4, 2014

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I KNEW IT WAS COMING.

But still, I was hopeful it wasn’t.

And I am raging mad. I’d write mad as h*** except I prefer not to swear.

On Monday I received a packet of information from my health insurance carrier, PreferredOne. It contained not a single word of good news.

The letter I received from my health insurance carrier.

The letter I received from my health insurance carrier.

Instead, I was notified that, if I stay with my current SignatureChoice Plus plan with a $2,000 deductible, copay and 100 percent coinsurance, my monthly premium will skyrocket a whopping 76 percent.

That’s right. Seventy-six percent.

My new monthly premium, effective January 1, will be $777 compared to my current $441.

Are you kidding? I cannot even begin to express how angry I am at this ridiculous rate increase. If this is affordable health insurance, then I wonder what the definition is of unaffordable health insurance.

Likewise, my husband is seeing a similar increase in the cost of his health insurance. His employer pays half his premium, which will be $778/month effective January 1.

We insure our college-aged son, too, through a plan offered at his East Coast university. At $185/month, that seems dirt cheap.

I have no idea what we are going to do. None. But to pay $1,351/month in health insurance premiums is not affordable on our income.

Some of my choices if I stay with PreferredOne.

Some of my choices if I stay with PreferredOne.

I will spend the next few weeks exploring options. After my nightmarish experience with MNSure last year, I am hesitant to try that route. But I’ll grit my teeth, bite my tongue (maybe), attempt to check my disdain and wade through the process which is sure to anger and frustrate me. I anticipate a system overload as nearly 60 percent of those purchasing insurance through MNSure last year were with PreferredOne. Now that Golden Valley based company has dropped out of MNSure and all those folks, plus individuals like me, will be shopping for new plans.

Early on I was optimistic that healthcare reform might work, that costs might be contained, that the average person could afford health insurance. No more.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Are you, like my husband and me, facing unaffordable health insurance premiums? What are you going to do?

What’s your take on this mess? At whom should my anger be directed? Politicians? Health insurance companies? Who?

We need some accountability here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling