Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Looking back to my “firsts” in 2018 December 31, 2018

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THE END OF THE YEAR offers a time for reflection. I could spew generalities about 2018, telling you it was a year of positives and negatives. And that would be true. But it’s a summary nearly anyone might make about 12 months of life.

Instead, I decided to list 10 firsts for me in 2018. They may seem trivial compared to what many of you have done in the past year. But I live a relatively quiet life in what is considered flyover country. And that’s just fine with me. Minnesota that is. And my small town (open to interpretation depending on where you live) life. I’m mostly content here, except when winter starts in October and stretches into April or May. But pros and cons exist wherever you live.

So let’s get to it—that list of 10 firsts for me in 2018, in no particular order.

 

Randy on the beach outside our lakeside condo timeshare in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.

 

1) Randy and I stayed in a lakeside condo timeshare in Detroit Lakes in west central Minnesota late this fall. (Thanks to friends who offered several days they couldn’t use.) Late October into early November isn’t the best time to visit this resort area with trees stripped of leaves and a brisk wind sweeping across the lake. But our time there proved quiet, peaceful, relaxing. I kind of liked, OK really liked, my first time ever at a lakeside condo timeshare.

 

A water feature at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, Wisconsin, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

2) As long as we’re on the travel topic, this year I discovered Madison, Wisconsin, after my second daughter and her husband moved there last spring. It’s a lovely city of abundant green space and one I look forward to exploring more.

 

An inside look at VR goggles.

 

3) Virtual reality took me on another adventure as the son brought his VR goggles home at Christmas and introduced me to a whole new world. Wow. I could go places without going places. It really was an amazing experience. You gotta remember that I grew up without a telephone and a TV (until I was about ten). Virtual reality, now that’s something.

 

 

 

4) I read my first Stephen King novel, Elevation. I’ve always steered clear of King’s books given the genre. But something prompted me to pull this short title from the library shelves. As strange as the storyline, I found some current day truths within and I’ll try another King novel soon. Even though I shied away from his fiction, King’s nonfiction book On Writing rates as my favorite book on the craft of writing.

 

A graphic illustrating options to consider due to unaffordable health insurance. Our health coverage will cost $1,603/month in 2019 with $4,000 individual deductibles. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

5) Prior to the mid-term elections, I sent my first email ever to my local state representative addressing my concerns about the high cost of health insurance. He never responded. There you go. He didn’t get my vote. If you can’t reply pre-election to a constituent…

 

Two of my posts published on Warner Press this summer. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

6) This spring I landed my first paid blogging gig. With Warner Press. I’m grateful for the opportunity to further share my writing talents with this Christian publisher. I’ve written greeting card verses for Warner for years.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a mural in Farmington, Minnesota.

 

7) I also shared my time and talents this summer by, for the first time, organizing a silent auction fundraiser for a friend in need. You can bet I was humbled and honored to hand my friend a hefty check.

 

Site of trivia night in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.

 

8) I learned this year that I, for sure, suck at trivia. While vacationing in Detroit Lakes, Randy and I dined at a local pizza joint on trivia night. We decided to join the fun, even enduring the stink eye of another player after Randy responded to a text from our eldest during the game. Apparently that’s a no-no. In all fairness to the host, we were told beforehand that looking up answers on our smartphones constituted cheating. We clearly weren’t cheating given our solo correct answer. Try convincing the guy at the table next to us that we didn’t cheat. We left midway into the second round.

 

Faribault tourism’s newest billboard along Interstate 35 promotes attractions in our Minnesota community, including the new 10,000 Drops Distillery. Photo edited.

 

9) A month or so ago, after an evening of theater in Faribault, Randy and I walked a half-block to 10,000 Drops Distillery, our first visit to a cocktail lounge. It won’t be our last, even though we aren’t much for drinking. It was the setting of exposed brick and wood and cozy seating areas designed for conversations that will bring us back. It’s simply a really cool place that you would expect to find in the Twin Cities metro area, not necessarily Faribault. Yes, my city may just surprise those of you who haven’t been here for awhile or who’ve never been here.

 

A sign marked the location of my granddaughter’s first birthday party in 2017. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017.

 

10) Finally, for the first time, I missed my granddaughter’s birthday party. Because of a late April snowstorm. Never mind that Isabelle was only turning two.

There you go…my memorable firsts for 2018.

TELL ME: What firsts happened in your life during the past year?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The “real” Fergus Falls as viewed by a Minnesotan December 28, 2018

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A view of downtown Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

IF YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA, New York or Germany, you are likely familiar with the case of a now-fired Der Spiegel journalist who visited Fergus Falls and fabricated a magazine story about this west central Minnesota community and its people. If there’s one thing we Minnesotans don’t like, it’s lies about who we are. How this writer thought he could pen such a piece of fiction and get away with it is beyond my comprehension.

 

The iconic Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, click here to read a post on Bob Collins’ NewsCut blog at Minnesota Public Radio. He offers a good summary. Fergus Falls folks set the record straight with their own investigation of Claas Relotius’ claims in a particularly humorous piece. It’s worth your read.

 

Visitors to the Kaddatz Galleries in downtown Fergus Falls peruse the art of Charles Beck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’ve been to Fergus Falls. Several times. And I’ve found it to be an artsy community with a lovely downtown and equally lovely people.

 

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls. This is the last of four billboards featuring my poem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Heck, I even had a poem posted on billboards there back in 2011 as part of the (now-defunct) Roadside Poetry Project.

 

The iconic The Viking Cafe with its vintage booths and lunch counter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

I visited several places that endear Fergus Falls to me—The Viking Cafe, Dairyland Drive In, Kaddatz Galleries, Otto the Otter statue and top of my list, Victor Lundeen & Company. Then third-generation print shop owner Paul Lundeen gave me a personal tour of his second floor print shop, showing me lots of vintage art and type. You can bet I was an appreciative visitor given my interest in all things print.

 

Victor Lundeen & Co. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This is the Fergus Falls I saw. Not some backward, gun-toting community of hicks, as portrayed by the German magazine writer.

 

The Otto the otter statue in Adams Park in Fergus Falls. The Otter Tail River runs through this city where the Fergus Falls High School mascot is the otter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Take a look at my blog posts for my view of Fergus Falls. It’s nothing like Relotius’ fabricated version. And that’s a good thing.

 

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/30/a-photographic-tour-of-downtown-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/06/13/dairyland-an-old-fashioned-drive-in-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/23/touring-a-third-generation-family-print-shop-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/22/up-on-the-rooftop-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/17/off-i-94-artsy-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/12/prairie-poetry-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/18/my-visit-with-otto-the-otter/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/15/lunch-at-the-viking-cafe/

 

TELL ME: Are you familiar with this story and how would you react if a foreign writer negatively fictionalized your community? Have you been to Fergus Falls? If yes, what’s your perspective of this Minnesota community?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When the holidays are anything but happy December 27, 2018

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An edited photo of a sign promoting kindness as part of The Virtues Trail Project in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

THIS PAST YEAR SEVERAL FRIENDS lost loved ones—one to suicide, another to an aggressive cancer, the other to advanced age-related health issues. Friends are battling cancer. Other friends are facing a myriad of challenges.

Christmas is not always easy. It can be downright difficult when you’re missing a loved one or working through something that’s really really tough. I get that. And I hope in some small way that my friends feel my care for them. I’ve reached out with words of comfort, with hugs, with a recognition of their struggles. I don’t pretend that I can erase their grief or solve the issues that are affecting their lives. I simply want them to know that they are not alone, even if they feel alone.

More than ever, it’s important for each of us to step outside of ourselves and recognize that people are hurting. Within our circles of family and friends. It’s important to realize that loss—whether by death or through strained relationships or other factors—hurts. We can ease that hurt by caring. Caring enough to ask, “How are you?” Caring enough to validate an individual’s loss and say, “I’m sorry.” Or “I’m here for you.” It doesn’t take a lot of effort. But it takes that pause, that ability to recognize that saying something is better than remaining silent.

I understand. I’ve heard words of care and support when I needed them. But I’ve heard, too, the loudness of silence.

TELL ME: How do you support family and friends dealing with a loss and/or a difficulty, especially during the holiday season?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas blessings in a Nativity scene December 25, 2018

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WHEN I FIRST PULLED this image from my files, I planned to simply use it to illustrate the true meaning of Christmas and wish you a blessed Christmas. Quick and easy.

But then I noticed something. Hands. So many hands posing in different ways. I knew this was more than just a photo of my granddaughter looking at a vintage Nativity. The same Nativity her mama, aunt and uncle viewed every December in Faribault.

Let’s start with Izzy. You can barely see Grandpa’s hand clutching her arm to keep her from falling off the bales in front of the manger. Grandpa was also stopping Izzy from climbing into the scene for a closer look at the Baby Jesus, which she wanted to do. I see love and protection in the closeness of grandfather and granddaughter.

Two of the three Wisemen also hold their hands in a protective pose, guarding the precious gifts they carried to Bethlehem.

And that middle Wiseman, well, to me his arms folded to heart symbolize love, how close we hold those we love most. I suppose one could argue he’s just keeping his cape in place. I choose to see his adoration and love for his Savior.

Then there’s Joseph, his hand gripping a staff. I expect he felt overwhelmed in many ways by the meaning of Jesus’ birth. Holding onto something physical can ground someone in times of mixed emotions.

Finally, Baby Jesus lies with his arms outstretched in a gesture of openness. Like he’s welcoming us to come and hug him, to feel his embrace. Izzy saw that. She wanted to climb right into the manger. But, of course, I couldn’t let her.

Instead, I stepped beside this 2 ½-year-old and suggested she say goodbye. “Goodbye, Baby Jesus,” my sweet little granddaughter said. And my heart melted as I held her close.

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For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

Merry Christmas, dear readers! Merry Christmas!

FYI: To see more photos of the Nativity, click here to read my 2016 post.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, the joy when you still believe in Santa December 24, 2018

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“SANTA!” he shouted, the single word expressing the joy of a child who still believes.

 

 

To hear that excitement made me smile wide as I turned toward the basement patio doors. There I saw a flash of red and then Santa peering through the window before he knocked on the glass.

 

 

Six-year-old Hank couldn’t race there fast enough to slide open the door allowing Santa entry to our annual extended family Christmas gathering in southwestern Minnesota on Saturday.

 

 

Santa shows up every year to greet young and old alike, to hand out candy and hugs and merry wishes. It is a tradition that never grows old, that always brings smiles and laughter and joy. For a moment or ten, we all see Santa through the eyes of a child. And we believe.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering Barb Larson December 23, 2018

A mosaic on the exterior of the Faribault Chamber office honors employee Barb Larson, murdered there on December 23, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I WISH I WASN’T WRITING this post. But I must. Today marks two years since Barb Larson was shot and killed by her ex-husband at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office. Richard Larson then turned the gun on, and killed, himself.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This high-profile crime rocked my community. And raised awareness of domestic violence. Barb was a victim even before her death. A harassment restraining order was served on her ex the week he killed her. A piece of paper is just that, a piece of paper.

 

Inspirational and honoring words are embedded in the mosaic tile. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The anniversary of Barb’s murder is a sobering reminder of domestic violence. But it is also a time to remember that we can all step up and do something about it. We can support, encourage and love those who are in abusive relationships. That includes all types of abuse, not just physical. We can direct them to professionals for help. In Faribault, HOPE Center offers help and hope. We can be there, listening. We can be a voice for victims. We can refuse to look the other way.

 

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

We can do this. For Barb. And for all the other Barbs who need us to care.

If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call 911. Have a safety plan in place to leave your abuser. Please seek help. It is there. Locally or by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A glimpse of Northfield during the holiday season December 21, 2018

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Outside an antique shop in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

NORTHFIELD RATES AS ONE of my favorite Minnesota cities. It’s a charming/quaint/picturesque river town with a timeless small town feel.

 

Photographed through the front window of Quality Bakery, a snippet of the bakery’s holiday window display.

 

Signage directs families to Santa’s house in Bridge Square.

 

The Christmas tree in Bridge Square brightens the wintry landscape with bold red decorations.

 

For someone like me who prefers rural to urban, a 22-minute drive there with no traffic hassles, visual delights in a historic downtown, an artsy vibe (including sidewalk poetry) and more, make this college city of some 20,000 particularly appealing. Especially at Christmas.

 

Bridge Square in the heart of downtown Northfield.

 

An ornament on that community Christmas tree.

 

Santa’s house, where Santa has always been absent whenever I’ve stopped at Bridge Square.

 

Fancied up holiday window displays, a Santa House and Christmas tree in Bridge Square (the downtown community gathering spot), an annual Christmas Walk, the renowned St. Olaf College Christmas Concert and more transform Northfield into a magical place during the holiday season.

 

 

I recently spent some time Christmas shopping in the downtown made famous by The James-Younger Gang’s robbery of the First National Bank on September 7, 1876. Today that bank building houses the Northfield Historical Society. The museum sits right across the street from Bridge Square.

 

A wagon load of Wisemen awaits shoppers outside an antique shop.

 

It’s not that I like shopping—I don’t. But I’d rather shop in one-of-a-kind local shops than in Anywhere Mall, USA. Northfield offers an abundance of home-grown retail stores.

 

 

There’s a lot of creativity in Northfield. And an appreciation of that creativity. I once participated in a beer poetry reading at a local brewery. How cool is that?

 

Beau inside Marketplace @ 416.

 

Christmas or not, the Americana small town-ness of Northfield endears this river town to me.

 

 

TELL ME: Have you been to Northfield and, if so, what about it appeals to you? Or what town do you find especially charming wherever you live?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling