Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I’m taking you Christmas tree shopping tomorrow December 18, 2014

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Christmas tree sign

So grab your winter coat, cap and mittens and slip on your boots, unless, of course, you live in a warm weather state unlike Minnesota.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Inn opens in historic building at Shattuck-St. Mary’s December 17, 2014

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FOR SOME FORTY YEARS the oldest building on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a prestigious private college prep school on Faribault’s east side, stood empty.

BUILT: The original part of the building was constructed in 1871 as the library for Seabury Divinity School. When the school relocated, the building was sold to Shattuck School and a small wing was added to the east. The building became Phelps Cottage, serving as a boys' dormitory. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary's School.

YESTERDAY: The original part of this building was constructed in 1871 as the library for Seabury Divinity School. When the divinity school relocated, the building was sold to Shattuck School and a small wing was added to the east. The building became Phelps Cottage, serving as a boys’ dormitory. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.

The Inn at Shattuck St. Mary's, a conference/retreat center and hotel, opened on Friday.

TODAY: The Inn at Shattuck St. Mary’s, a conference/retreat center, banquet/reception facility and hotel, opened on Friday.

But, on Friday, the stunning stone and stuccoed building, with a section dating back to 1871 and edging a wooded ravine, opened to the public as The Inn at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

The front desk and lobby presents an inviting welcome.

The front desk and lobby present an inviting welcome.

Saturday afternoon I toured The Inn during the school’s annual Campus Christmas Walk and spoke briefly with David Connelly (former manager of an Owatonna restaurant), who’s genuinely excited to take on the challenge of managing what he terms “a historically modern retreat get-away.”

One of several guest rooms open during the public tour.

One of several guest rooms, with modern, clean lines, open during the public tour

That seems an accurate description for this one-time library, then boys’ dormitory and infirmary now transformed via renovation and an approximate 10,000 square foot addition into a complex with 12 guest rooms, meeting/conference rooms and banquet/reception space. The Inn includes a full catering kitchen. It also serves as a retreat center for the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, which partnered with Shattuck on the project.

Old flows into new as shown here at The Inn entry.

Old flows into new as shown here at The Inn entry.

From the exterior, The Inn, vacated in the early 1970s (except for feral cats), presents a timeless European style that fits this aged campus. Arched windows and steep, peaked roofs and stone prevail.

Detailed close-up of the old portion of the building flowing into new.

Detailed close-up of the oldest portion of the building.

In the early 1920s, a wing was enlarged and covered with stucco. It became the Phelps Infirmary. The infirmary opened just in time for an outbreak of scarlet fever. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary's School.

In the early 1920s, a wing was enlarged and covered with stucco. It became the Phelps Infirmary. The infirmary opened just in time for an outbreak of scarlet fever. It remained open into the early 1970s. Phelps was last used in 2006 as a Halloween haunted house. Photo courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.

It’s a beautiful structure which seamlessly blends old with new, as it should given the oldest section is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Church style windows add Old World charm to this guest room in the old part of The Inn.

Church style windows add Old World charm to this guest room in the oldest part of The Inn.

The original staircase.

The original staircase.

The breakfast area, just off a conference room and the lobby.

The breakfast area, just off a conference room and the lobby, has a definitive modern feel.

Inside you will find, as Manager Connelly says, a thoroughly modern facility with all of the amenities you would expect. Touches of the past remain, though, in sections of exposed stone, in those arched windows and in the original stairway from main to second floor, although I suspect that the wood was not painted white back in the day.

A maze of hallways, some featuring stone, lead to guest rooms.

A maze of hallways, some featuring stone, lead to guest rooms.

Hallways wind to guest rooms in a deliberate way that definitely makes this place feel more inn-like than hotel.

Decor throughout The Inn features earthy shades of green and brown.

Decor throughout The Inn features soothing earthy shades of green and brown.

Muted green and brown hues complement the natural setting of The Inn on the wooded west edge of the campus.

In a sectioned off meeting space, windows showcase the woods.

In a sectioned off meeting space, windows showcase the woods.

Banks of floor-to-ceiling windows in the meeting/reception spaces and a spacious woods-side deck and patio showcase the outdoors.

The opening of The Inn seems a smart move on Shattuck’s part. Many couples are married in the historic The Chapel of the Good Shepherd, just a short walk away. Parents from all over the world visit their children at the school. And top-notch hockey teams (think NHL feeder school) draw out-of-town fans to games.

The lobby and entry, simply and beautifully decorated for the holiday.

The lobby and entry, simply and beautifully decorated for the holidays.

On opening day Friday, The Inn guest rooms were three-fourths full, Manager Connelly says. And on Saturday, during the Campus Christmas Walk, visitors seemed duly impressed with the newest old addition to Faribault’s lodging and banquet/meeting facility options.

A touch of Christmas outside the front entry.

A touch of Christmas class outside the front entry.

FYI: Click here for more information on The Inn at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Room rates range from $110 – $150 Sunday – Thursday and from $140 – $180 on Fridays and Saturdays.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Vintage photos are courtesy of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and are published here with permission.

 

Here comes Santa Claus & his horses December 16, 2014

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IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK  a lot like Christmas…

Free horse-drawn wagon rides were offered around downtown Faribault Saturday afternoon. Here the wagon, with Santa aboard, passes The Depot Bar and Grill.

Free horse-drawn wagon rides were offered around downtown Faribault Saturday afternoon. Here the wagon, with Santa aboard, passes The Depot Bar and Grill.

with a one-horse two-horse open sleigh wagon winding around and through historic downtown Faribault.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sharing the Christmas spirit, Shattuck-St. Mary’s style December 15, 2014

SATURDAY DIDN’T LOOK or feel a lot like Christmas here in Southern Minnesota. Snow melting. Temps in the 40s or near 50. Beautiful weather for December, except for the lack of sunshine until late afternoon.

Inside Shumway Hall, a sign welcomes visitors to the annual Campus Christmas Walk.

Inside Shumway Hall, a sign welcomes visitors to the annual Campus Christmas Walk.

But on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a holiday mood prevailed during the private prep school’s 12th annual Campus Christmas Walk, a gift to the Faribault community.

Heavy wood doors dominate the entry to Shumway Hall.

Heavy wood doors dominate the entry to Shumway Hall.

My husband and I attended “Winter Chronicles,” the fabulous figure skating show; walked the wide hallways of historic Shumway Hall

Impressive Shumway Hall.

Impressive Shumway Hall.

Plates of sweet treats awaited visitors.

Plates of sweet treats awaited visitors.

Kids worked on holiday crafts in the dining hall.

Kids worked on holiday crafts in the dining hall.

Colorful Christmas ornaments to craft.

Colorful Christmas ornaments to craft.

to the dining room for sweet treats and cider/hot chocolate;

The Inn at Shattuck St. Mary's, a conference/retreat center and hotel, opened on Friday.

The Inn at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a conference/retreat center and hotel, opened on Friday. Watch for an upcoming post tour of The Inn.

One boy headed for a treat after visiting Santa while another raced toward Santa's open arms at The Inn.

One boy headed for a treat after visiting Santa while another raced toward Santa’s open arms.

toured the just-opened The Inn at Shattuck-St. Mary’s where Santa proved the most popular guest;

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

and then popped into the old stone chapel.

Wreaths aplenty, including these on the entry to Shumway Hall, decorated the campus.

Wreaths aplenty, including these on the entry to Shumway Hall, decorate the campus.

If time had allowed, we also would have taken in the Christmas Performing Arts Showcase. Next year.

This ornate stairway stands just outside the dining hall.

The ornate stairway  just outside the dining hall.

As an appreciator of historic buildings which stand strong in stone and dark wood and sturdiness, I truly enjoy this once-a-year opportunity to tour Shattuck.

The Shattuck-St. Mary's campus features beautiful stone buildings constructed in the 1800s.

The Shattuck-St. Mary’s campus features beautiful stone buildings constructed in the 1800s.

Every time I enter this campus, I feel like I’m at some Ivy League college. Not that I’ve ever been to a Harvard or Yale. I can only imagine. Shattuck has that feel of age and strength and wealth.

A sign on Shumway Hall notes its centennial anniversary in 1958.

A sign on Shumway Hall notes Shattuck’s centennial anniversary in 1958.

Of course, it’s more. Much more. Like a school that produces great hockey players and draws students to my Minnesota community from all over the world.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Moody St. Paul December 12, 2014

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GREY DRIFTED OVER THE CITY, layering an eerie mood over downtown St. Paul on a late November Saturday afternoon.

 

St. Paul skyline 1

 

The temp had warmed to hurry from your car to building without a coat warmth as my husband, eldest daughter, son-in-law and I exited the Minnesota History Center.

 

St. Paul skyline 2

 

As we aimed toward the parking lot facing the St. Paul skyline, double church spires drew my eye. So did the red umbrella marking Travelers Insurance. And because I do not know this city well, I could not identify the other buildings in my view except Catholic Charities, marked as such.

 

St. Paul skyline 3

 

But that mattered not, for in that moment angles and fog and mood mingled into a scene worth photographing.

The writer in me was already formulating the plot for a Capitol city mystery, inspired perhaps by the Nancy Drew board game spied inside the History Center.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Toy stories at the Minnesota History Center December 11, 2014

TOY: Object for a child to play with.

 

Toys, sign and Twister

 

If you’re a Baby Boomer, that object may have been Tinker Toys or Lincoln Logs, anything space or Western related, a baby doll or Barbie or perhaps a troll. How about a Tonka truck? Twister or Cootie or Candy Land, anyone?

 

Toys, promo on wall

 

The Minnesota History Center’s “TOYS of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s” is a skip down memory lane for my generation. A recent tour of the exhibit, which runs through January 4, 2015, skipped joy into my heart as I spotted toys I hadn’t thought about in years. Sometimes it’s fun simply to forget about today and remember the carefree days of youth. The days of hopscotch and jacks and stick horses and…

Outdoor toys and a play area are part of the exhibit.

Outdoor toys and a play area are part of the exhibit.

I didn’t see a jump rope, though, but perhaps missed it.

Oh, the hours sitting cross-legged with Tinker Toys scattered across the floor, attempting to construct a Ferris Wheel.

 

Toys, Cootie

 

Oh, the anticipation of rolling a six on the die to insert the last of six legs into a Cootie’s body.

Oh, the tears that raged when I discovered my oldest brother had punched in the boobs of my new bridal doll.

Oh, the gratitude to my friend Robin for gifting me with a mini pink-haired troll at my ninth birthday party. It was the only troll or childhood birthday party I would ever have.

Toys, Spirograph

Some artsy favorites like Spirograph, Lite Brite and making bugs from goop.

 

Oh, the delight in creating kaleidoscopic designs with Spirograph’s pens and plastic shapes.

A museum visitor checks out the 1960s exhibit.

A museum visitor checks out the 1960s exhibit.

Memories rolled in waves as I perused the showcased toys. Some I had as a child; many I did not.

In the '50s section of the exhibit, a Christmas tree with coveted toys of the decade.

In the ’50s section of the exhibit, a Christmas tree with coveted toys of the decade.

I remember each December paging through the Sears Christmas catalog (AKA “Wish Book”) that arrived in our rural southwestern Minnesota mailbox, wishing for so much, knowing in my deepest desires that I would never get the Pogo stick I coveted nor the doll that cried with the pull of a string or a new bicycle (mine came from the junkyard).

Space toys were big in the 1960s and my oldest brother had a rocket.

Space toys were big in the 1960s and my oldest brother had a rocket.

I would receive what my parents could afford and I expect they sacrificed much even for that.

Toys strewn across the floor in a play area of the 1970s part of the exhibit.

Toys strewn across the floor in a play area of the 1970s part of the exhibit.

Looking back, that inability to give me and my siblings a pile of toys was a gift in itself. Sure, I wanted the hottest new toy. That’s normal thinking for a kid who doesn’t understand family finances or a parent’s thoughts on curbing greed.

I remember life without TV and our first television, in black and white. And Mr. Potato Head, a popular toy back in the day.

I remember life without TV and our first television, black and white. And Mr. Potato Head, a popular toy back in the day.

Because of my upbringing, I have never focused on material things.

Anything Western related was especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Here you see the Western influence in furniture.

Anything Western related was especially popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Here you see the Western influence in furniture. My siblings and I spent countless hours riding our stick horses through the grove and, in the winter, around the house.

Yes, toys are fun to get and give, especially those that encourage creativity and imaginative play and don’t require batteries.

I cherish the blessings of family and home more than anything. I spotted this needlework in the 1970s portion of the exhibit.

I cherish the blessings of family and home more than anything. I spotted this needlework in the 1970s portion of the exhibit.

But it is family that I cherish most. And when I toured the History Center’s toy and other exhibits, I did so with my husband, eldest daughter and son-in-law. Nothing skips joy into my heart like being with those I love.

As we left the museum, we voted for our favorite Minnesota made toy. My daughter and I voted for Cootie. Our husbands chose Tonka.

As we left the museum, we voted for our favorite Minnesota made toy. My daughter and I voted for Cootie. Our husbands chose the Tonka truck.

FYI: For information on “TOYS of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s,” click here. Just a little heads up: This exhibit was packed on a Saturday afternoon. I’d advise visiting this St. Paul museum on a weekday, especially if you want an opportunity to participate in the interactive parts of exhibits.

BONUS PHOTOS:

My son-in-law noted, as we toured the 1970s part of the exhibit, that toys began to reflect social issues such as being environmentally conscious.

My son-in-law noted, as we toured the 1970s part of the exhibit, that toys began to reflect social issues such as being environmentally conscious.

A 1960s living room.

A 1960s living room.

Never saw this cartoon and I'm glad I did. Audrey carrying a gun? Really.

I didn’t grow up on the Little Audrey cartoon and I’m glad I didn’t. Really, a little girl carrying a gun?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A must-see holiday play: The Santa Diaries December 10, 2014

I THOUGHT I MIGHT make it through a local holiday theatrical production without crying.

But I didn’t.

The Santa Diaries actors, left to right, Thomas Drenth as Timmy; Samuel Temple as Marley the Dog; and Michael Lambert as Will Hawes. Photo by Edward Brown and courtesy of The Merlin Players.

The Santa Diaries actors, left to right, Thomas Drenth as Timmy; Samuel Temple as Marley the Dog; and Michael Lambert as Will Hawes. Photo by Edward Brown and courtesy of The Merlin Players.

Saturday evening found me seated on the far right side of the Bahl Family Auditorium, near the back of the Paradise Center for the Arts restored theatre in historic downtown Faribault, wiping away tears during The Merlin Players performance of The Santa Diaries.

The play penned by Mala Burt and Laura Ambler and debuting in Minnesota, in Faribault, resounds with the age-old theme of discovering what is truly most important in life.

For main character Will Hawes, played by seasoned actor Michael Lambert, that is deciphering whether he truly values his success as a Hollywood actor over love and family. A return to his small hometown at Christmas causes Hawes to reexamine his choices in life.

During an especially creative scene in which Hawes is dreaming, he is advised to “open your heart and listen.”

This holiday chorus line will have you laughing out loud. Photo by Edward Brown, courtesy of The Merlin Players.

This holiday chorus line will put you in the Christmas mood and have you laughing out loud. Photo by Edward Brown, courtesy of The Merlin Players.

That could be the mantra for a production that mixes serious topics with humor. From the Hotdish Ladies (“Casseroles” in the original script, but this is Minnesota) bearing Sweet Potato Hotdish to a chorus line to the moment that made me cry—hearing the inner thoughts of Martha (played by Stephanie Weiss) wanting nothing more than her family home for Christmas—The Santa Diaries touches the heart.

You will laugh. You may cry. And, with absolute certainty, you will consider your own family and your life priorities as The Santa Diaries unfolds.

The older I grow, the less I care about the worldly trappings of Christmas. Like Martha, I just want my family home for Christmas. That won’t happen. Not precisely on Christmas Day. But we will have 1 ½ days together prior. And I am grateful for that. (The college son arrives home from Boston in exactly eight days.)

While The Santa Diaries presents a rather predictable happy ending—hey, you can’t have a holiday show that ends badly—real life isn’t that way. I know that. You know that. Life is messy. Work and distance and disagreements and busyness keep families apart.

But there is hope. People change. Situations change. We grow older and wiser. And, like main character Will Hawes, we eventually figure it out, that family is more important than money and success and work and schedules and, well, whatever else fills the time we could be with those we love.

The Paradise Center for the Arts is the cultural hub for theater and art in a historic theatre along Faribault's Central Avenue.

The Paradise Center for the Arts is the cultural hub for theater and art in a historic theatre along Faribault’s Central Avenue. Each December a holiday show is featured. This photo is from a past performance.

FYI: Additional performances of The Santa Diaries are set for 7:30 p.m. December 11, 12 and 13 and for 2 p.m. December 14. Julianna Skluzacek is the artistic director for the play featuring 28 passionate performers ranging from elementary age to decades older.  Call (507) 332-7372 for tickets from noon – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday or noon – 8 p.m. Thursdays. Tickets may also be purchased an hour before show times. I wouldn’t wait, though. Tickets are selling quickly.

The playwrights are flying into Minnesota from the East Coast on Friday and will be here for all three weekend performances.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The Santa Diaries photos copyright of Edward Brown/The Merlin Players and published here with permission.

 

Wisconsin’s version of Frosty the Snowman December 9, 2014

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WISCONSINITES ARE CRAZY about their Green Bay Packers. That I’ve learned in the four years since my second daughter moved to eastern Wisconsin.

From Packers billboards to barn signs, Packers apparel and green and gold brat buns in the grocery store, Packers craziness abounds.

My daughter photographed this display of Green Bay Packers themed holiday items at Shopko.

My daughter photographed this display of Green Bay Packers themed holiday items at Shopko.

You can even find holiday décor promoting this much beloved football team, as discovered by my daughter on a shopping trip to the local Shopko. She couldn’t resist texting an image of Cheesehead Green Bay Packers snowman ornaments.

A clearer image of the Packers Cheesehead snowman from the Green Bay Packers Shop.

A clearer image of the Packers Cheesehead snowman from the Green Bay Packers Shop.

Cheesy or cute? You decide.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo courtesy of Miranda Helbling
Second image from the online Green Bay Packers Shop

 

My winning Americana photo December 8, 2014

AS A PHOTOGRAPHER, you know when you’ve snapped a photo that tells a story, that freezes a moment, that captures an emotion. Light and composition and focus also factor into the equation of a memorable image.

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo.

The BINGO callers. My first place winning photo.

Such was my reaction to photographing John and Lavonne, BINGO callers at the 2013 July Fourth celebration in North Morristown. Many of my images from that day make me proud of my work as a photographer.

Through my photography, I strive to show the everyday and celebratory moments of life—the people, places and happenings that define my world in Southern Minnesota.

And North Morristown on the Fourth of July is about as rural and down-to-earth as you get in these parts. So when I saw this couple calling BINGO, I determined to photograph the scene. They appeared to not even notice me and my camera, so focused were they on their job.

That’s precisely how I like it, to go unnoticed, to click the shutter button and document.

Professional photographers John Hart and Amber Arnold from the Wisconsin State Journal saw, too, what I see in that “Fourth of July BINGO Callers” image. They selected it as the first place winner in the People category of the 2014 photo contest sponsored by National Mutual Benefit.

The judges commented:

This photo has a timeless quality and is a candid, natural moment. It’s a slice of Americana.

I couldn’t have said it better.

My trusty fifth eye, my Canon EOS 20D.

Me and my Canon EOS 20D. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

As a photographer, I am delighted to receive this professional validation of my work with a monetary prize and publication.

This is the second time I’ve won in the National Mutual Benefit Photo Contest. My last win came in 2003 when I photographed a butterfly on a daisy, garnering first place in the scenery division. That was back in the day when I was still shooting with film. I’ve only entered the competition a few times.

What do you think makes a winning or really good photo?

FYI: To view all of the winning photos and judges’ comments, click here. None of the contest images could be digitally altered.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy to ring Salvation Army bells on a balmy Minnesota morning December 6, 2014

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Gary and Barb work the 10 a.m. to noon bell-ringing shift at Walmart south.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of 2013 Salvation Army bell ringing.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE 25 degrees can make.

The temp felt downright balmy ringing bells for the Salvation Army outside the north entrance of the Faribault Walmart this morning.

A year ago, at the south entrance, my husband and I rang bells in temps that hovered around a bone-chilling zero degrees Fahrenheit. Numerous times we stepped inside to warm up.

But this morning the sun shone bright upon us during our 10 a.m. to noon shift. It was lovely. No need to head to the bathroom to thaw hands under the heat of a hand dryer. This was an orange shorts topped by a Green Bay Packers jacket kind of morning, per the attire of one Walmart customer.

In true typical Minnesota talk, numerous folks commented on the beautiful weather. We couldn’t have agreed more. Standing in the outdoors for two hours in 25 degree weather felt almost tropical compared to the bundled up with minimal skin exposed temps of a year ago.

We were happy to be there, no matter the weather.

This marks my second year of bell ringing. And, like last year, I used eye contact and a friendly greeting to welcome folks, whether they gave or not.

And so many gave—from the smallest tyke hoisted to the kettle by a parent to the elderly man shuffling across the parking lot to the woman waiting for a taxi to the family with five children who gave on their way in, and then out of, the store.

I appreciated the kind words of several who thanked us and held dear an elderly woman’s words, “God bless you.”

It touches me deeply when parents pause so their children can drop coins and bills into the kettle. We thanked those children by handing out kisses—chocolate candy kisses. And I thanked the parents, too, for teaching their children to give.

In this season of spending, I hope you will donate to a charity to help those in need. Who knows, some day that person in need may be you, or me.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling