Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Beyond salad, a Minnesota Halloween horror story October 31, 2018

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I’M NOT A BIG FAN of scary anything. Reality is scary enough. So if you want to talk about things that go bump in the night, exclude me from the conversation.

Yet, when Halloween rolls around, it’s pretty difficult to avoid that which frightens. Right now, as I write, I look out my office window across the street to a Scream face. I’ve never seen the movie, or whatever, that features this character. But I recognize the image as something meant to frighten.

I can’t exactly stride across the street and yank the cloth from my neighbor’s front yard tree. That wouldn’t be nice. But if I had little kids…

Kid talk brings to mind a particularly memorable Halloween from my youth. As a member of the Junior Legion Auxiliary, I attended a Halloween party held in the basement of the local veterinarian’s house. Can you see where this is going?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of grapes in a Minnesota vineyard. Grapes used for wine, not salad.

 

The vet’s daughter blindfolded me and then asked me to touch something. “Cow eyeballs,” she said. Now you can only imagine how horrifying that experience to an impressionable elementary-aged girl. As my fingertips landed on the cold orbs and those frightening words were uttered, I shrieked. Cold grapes feel an awful lot like cow eyeballs, let me tell you. Not that I’ve ever touched a cow’s eyeballs.

Likewise, cold spaghetti feels like guts. I don’t know that I touched anything else in that vet’s basement after that. But the experience has stuck with me as a particularly memorable Halloween.

And, yes, I eat grapes.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your memorable Halloween stories. Keep in mind that I’m not a big fan of scary.

NOW, IF YOU’RE WONDERING about the title of this piece, flash back to November 2014 when a New York Times reporter wrote an article listing the Thanksgiving recipes that “evoke each of the 50 states.” For Minnesota, he chose Grape Salad. That unleashed The Grapes of Wrath from Minnesotans who found that an absurd choice for our state. Most of us, but not all, had never heard of, let alone eaten, Grape Salad. Oh, the horror of eating cow’s eyeballs.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Focus on feline photography October 29, 2018

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Brianna’s cat, in her home in Hayfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

 

HALLOWEEN PROMPTS THOUGHTS of cats. Not necessarily black ones. Just cats in general. I’ve photographed a few through the years. Because, well, they are photogenic.

 

One of the many cats on a Morristown, Minnesota, area farm.

 

I’m no cat person. I grew up on a farm, where cats served the sole purpose of catching mice. But I’ll stroke a cat, allow one to wind around my legs. For awhile. I have my limits. Recently when about a dozen farm cats swarmed from a barn toward me, I retreated to the safety of the van and slammed the door. That was too many cats. I felt like I was inside New Ulm native Wanda Gag’s Millions of Cats children’s picture book or in some Stephen King horror story.

 

Ian with Zephyr in rural Bigelow, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Yet, I know many of you adore cats, own cats. And that’s OK by me. I can pet your cat, photograph your cat without the costs and responsibilities of pet ownership. That works for me.

 

My sister’s cat, Sable, now deceased. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

TELL ME: Do you own a cat(s), why and what do you love about your pet(s)?

BONUS CAT IMAGES from my photo files:

 

“Grandview Farm Cat” by Faribault animal portrait artist Julie M. Fakler. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Princess Biancabella bookshop cat at Bexter Book & Copy in Milaca, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2017.

 

Posted on the screen door of Paper Moon in McGregor, Iowa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

The cat that needs to be kept inside Paper Moon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Iowa cat. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

One of two cats outside Hopefull Treasures in Hope, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2011.

 

The lazy life of a Hopefull Treasures cat. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2011.

 

“Dog and Cats” by Faribault Lutheran School first grader Frankie Spicer shown at a student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

This stray kitten showed up while I dined with friends on the patio at The Tavern, a downtown Northfield, Minnesota, eatery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The art of autumn October 26, 2018

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“White Mountains and Aspens” by Robert Wood, purchased several years ago for a few bucks at a garage sale spans a wall in my living room.

 

I’M MOSTLY A MINIMALIST when it comes to decorating. I wasn’t always that way. At one time I displayed lots of knick knacks in my home. I got caught up in the craft trend for awhile, too. But now I’m back to the basics. Of art.

 

One of the most unique pieces in my art collection is this work by Dutch artist Theodore Degroot. This LathArt was designed by Degroot and made by Austin Productions in the 1970s. The company used a patent to die cut the pieces. The patent on my art is number 4,061,514. I bought this at a recycled art sale.

 

Through the years I’ve collected an assortment of original and print art at primarily garage sales, thrift stores and a recycled art sale held annually at the local Paradise Center for the Arts. I buy what I like. And, if it turns out to have value, well, then that’s a bonus.

 

Kitschy honeycomb tissue art purchased recently at a thrift store for 20 cents.

 

I change my art out seasonally, sometimes more depending on my mood and pieces I want to showcase.

 

Even this vintage 1976 cloth calendar, purchased at a garage sale, is a work of art.

 

Right now art with hues of orange, of brown, of rust, of muted yellows grace my home.

 

Art from a maple tree, mine or my neighbor’s.

 

It’s as if I’ve gathered in the harvest, the landscape, brought the outdoors inside.

 

I stitched this crewel embroidery art in the 1970s from a kit gifted by an aunt and uncle.

 

Whether honeycomb tissue pumpkins, an owl crafted from wood, a crewel embroidery mountain scene, all are pieces I value. They appeal to me visually but, more importantly, intrinsically.

TELL ME: What type of art do you display in your home and why? Do you change it out?

 

Even in rural Minnesota, ag knowledge sometimes lacking October 25, 2018

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Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. Shown here for illustration only.

 

ARE WE A GENERATION away from losing the farm? Not in the literal sense. But in the sense of understanding agriculture.

Do you know, do your children know, do your grandchildren know the sources of ingredients in food and other products?

A recent test shows me that, even here in rural Minnesota some 50 miles south of Minneapolis, people are not particularly knowledgeable. Granted, this was no scientific study. And it was limited in scope. But results were enough to make me realize that we could do a better job of educating our young people about agriculture. Even those who live in a city like Faribault surrounded by corn and soybean fields.

 

A fest-goer attempts to match animals and plants to products I set out.

 

How did I reach this conclusion? Well, I pulled together several farm-themed matching and other games for a recent kids’ fall fest at my church. One of those required players to match farm animals and plants to five products. Only one boy successfully completed the task as did some, but not all, adults.

 

Registered Holsteins photographed at a Faribault area farm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I laid pictures of the following on a table: cows, sheep, pigs, corn and soybeans.

Then I set out a can of cranberry sauce, a box of Velveeta cheese, a brush, a bottle of Thousand Island salad dressing and a wool blanket.

The goal was to match the image and product.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Shepherd’s Way Farms.

 

As you might guess, the sheep and blanket, cows and cheese proved easy matches.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a cornfield.

 

But not the other three. Can you figure it out? I’ll help. The first ingredient on the dressing label is soybean oil. The second ingredient on the cranberry label is high fructose corn syrup. That leaves the brush. Some brush bristles are made from pig hair.

I expected the game might challenge little kids too young to understand what comes from where or what ingredients are in our food. But I was surprised by mid to upper elementary kids and adults who got the matches wrong.

Does it matter? I believe so. Our kids and grandkids, even us adults, need to be knowledgeable about food and product sources. We need to understand that our food and more doesn’t just come from the store or some online source. It comes from the land, directly or indirectly, grown or raised by farmers. When we realize that, we begin to value and appreciate rather than simply consume.

 

In the window of Ruf Acres Market in historic downtown Faribault, egg cartons promoting eggs from Graise Farm. The eggs are sold at this market and elsewhere in the area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ASIDE FROM THIS EXPERIENCE, I’ve seen strong efforts locally to educate consumers about agriculture. Leading the way in my community is Tiffany Tripp of Graise Farm. She and her husband raise grass-fed animals in a sustainable environment, according to their farm website. I’ve seen Tiffany out and about selling and promoting locally-grown/raised. She is currently co-coordinating efforts to market locally-grown/raised/sourced products under a Cannon Valley Grown label. What a great idea. I love her enthusiasm and that of others who recognize the value of what is grown and raised right here in southeastern Minnesota.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tune in as faith radio addresses the issue of domestic violence October 24, 2018

A snippet of a domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod several years ago.

 

October 25 could be a lifeline.

Those words banner the home page of my favorite radio station’s website as I write this post. That would be Twin Cities based faith radio, KTIS. It is my go-to station for music and messages that uplift, comfort and encourage.

On Thursday evening, October 25, KTIS radio personality Donna Cruz leads the station in addressing the topic of domestic violence through stories, information, and uplifting messages of hope and healing. Cruz can empathize. She is a survivor of domestic violence.

Additionally, counselors will take calls from listeners, engaging in conversations that will not be aired.

For this radio station to put the spotlight on this issue during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October is noteworthy. Too often faith communities avoid the topic or approach it in a way that blames the victim, excuses (and/or believes) the abuser and encourages restoration of a relationship.

It is time for that to change, for those within faith communities to acknowledge that domestic abuse can happen to anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. It is time for faith communities to recognize abuse and believe victims. It’s time for faith communities to figure out how to help—and that stretches beyond prayer to education, support and connecting with professionals.

Really, it’s time for all of us to educate ourselves, to start caring, to break the silence, to be the voice, the help, the encouragement for those who need support and hope for a way out of an abusive relationship. It starts with you. It starts with me. Today.

FYI: Please tune in to KTIS at 98.5 FM or online from 7 – 10 p.m. Thursday, October 25.

Please note that some faith communities have tackled the topic of domestic violence and for that I am grateful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The season of autumn in images & words October 23, 2018

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AS LEAVES SPIRAL IN BURSTS of wind to the ground, the season of autumn nears the exit here in Minnesota.

 

 

We are all cognizant of that impending departure. The farmers as they hurry to harvest crops. The squirrels as they gather and hide walnuts. And those of us who still have yards to prepare for winter.

 

 

I feel that pressure. To get the leaves raked,

 

 

the flowerbeds cleaned, flowerpots emptied,

 

 

the tabletop fountain hefted above garage rafters.

 

 

I wish for more days of cobalt skies, sunshine blazing warmth onto my back as I rake leaves, stuff them into trash cans.

 

 

 

 

I wish until I realize that by wishing, I am missing the season. So I grab my camera and turn it toward the maple leaves on the solo tree in our backyard, toward the woods edging our property, even to the neighbor’s bare branched trees.

 

 

Of course, I wish I could slow time, grab back summer days, hold onto each leaf stem yanked by the wind. But I can’t.

 

 

Every season brings its joys, its sorrow, its light, its darkness. That is a given. I can yearn for another season. Or I can choose to embrace the season in which I am living.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

For the love of books, a spotlight on several Little Free Libraries October 22, 2018

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I was delighted to find a Little Free Library near my son’s apartment when I visited him in Somerville, Massachusetts, in May of 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHENEVER I SPOT A LITTLE FREE LIBRARY, I feel a deep appreciation for the stewards of these mini libraries.

The ability to read, as I see it, is the foundation of learning. But to read, you need access to books. Not everyone has that, whether by geographical location or lack of money for books.

So those individuals who place a Little Free Library in their yards (or elsewhere) and then stock and restock shelves have my gratitude. They realize the importance of easy 24/7 access to books.

 

The LFL Todd and Susan Bol installed outside the community-owned Vesta Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

I grew up in a rural Minnesota community without a library. I understand what it’s like to be without library books. But thanks to Little Free Library founder Todd Bol, my hometown of Vesta has had a small public library since July 1, 2012. A Little Free Library. Todd gifted that to this small farming town. I am grateful.

 

A LFL in downtown Decorah, Iowa.

 

Recently I spotted two particularly distinct Little Free Libraries, one in the heart of downtown Decorah, one of my favorite northeastern Iowa cities. The library sits in a public plaza next to Oneota Community Food Co-op. That it’s barn-shaped seems especially fitting in a primarily agricultural state. A red barn remains an iconic symbol of rural life.

I grabbed a hardcover copy of James Patterson’s Double Cross with every intention of starting to read the book while in Decorah. That never happened and now the book sits on my to-read pile back here in Minnesota. First I need to finish The Girls of Ames—A Story of Women & a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow. The national bestseller published in 2009. The book holds special interest for me given one of the women taught journalism at Faribault High School and served as advisor to the student newspaper when my second daughter was co-editor. It’s an excellent read. And quite revealing.

But I digress.

 

 

A variety of books for all ages fill an eye-catching LFL posted at 805 State Street in Waseca. It’s designed as a TARDIS, the featured mode of transportation on the BBC sci-fi television show “Doctor Who.” I know nothing about the show. To me, the TARDIS resembles a blue phone booth.

 

 

The stewards of the Waseca TARDIS do a great job of visually promoting the LFL with the library now seasonally decorated for autumn and Halloween. Inside, they’ve also stocked Halloween-themed books. They seem to have a lot of fun with their LFL. I expect given its location along one of Waseca’s main arteries that the library is well-used.

 

 

What kid wouldn’t be drawn to a mini TARDIS? Or adult for that matter?

 

 

 

I love when folks run with the LFL idea and get especially creative, all for the purpose of getting books into the hands of others.

 

A cat watched as I photographed the TARDIS LFL.

 

FYI: This post is dedicated to Todd Bol, who founded the Little Free Library movement and who died on October 18 of pancreatic cancer.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling