Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Vintage snowmobiles & memories of a snowmobile misadventure December 20, 2018

Staying warm trumps fashion during a Minnesota winter. This vintage parka accented snowmobiles on display at Sleds on Central in historic downtown Faribault.

 

MY TIME SNOWMOBILING, even though I’m a life-long Minnesotan, is limited to several ride-alongs as a teenager. I never had that much interest in the sport. Either you’re really into snowmobiling or you’re not. That’s my assessment anyway.

 

 

Even with that minimal interest, I still wanted to check out Sleds on Central, Vintage Snowmobile Show, this past Saturday as part of Faribault’s second annual Winterfest.

 

 

Once there, I focused initially on keeping my 2 ½-year-old granddaughter safe after a pick-up truck unexpectedly drove through what I thought was a closed street. Alright then. I was tempted to move orange safety cones into the traffic lanes of Central Avenue to keep vehicles out.

 

 

Instead, I steered Izzy to two pink snowmobiles. She loves anything pink. That distraction worked briefly.

 

 

Then Grandpa scooped her up…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

so I could take photos without that traffic worry.

 

 

 

 

I don’t really know much about snowmobiles, just that they can go fast, make lots of noise and break down. An avid snowmobiler would likely emphasize the positives of speed, the outdoors and winter fun.

 

Polaris snowmobiles are signature Minnesotan. The company opened in the 1950s in Roseau in far northwestern Minnesota.

 

I recall some fun rides with my cousin Kevin as he raced across the flat farm fields of southwestern Minnesota. But I also recall the not-so-fun time my older brother invited me to hop on his snowmobile for a ride across the field to the gravel pit on our family farm. Doug stopped in the pit and somehow persuaded me to get off. Then he left. Just drove away. I’ll never forget that moment of watching him speed away as I stood there in the deep snow in the cold of winter with no way back to the farm site. He must have picked me up eventually. But that abandonment is seared into my memory. I’d never trust him again on a snowmobile.

TELL ME: Are you a snowmobiler or have you ridden on one?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The magic of Faribo Frosty December 19, 2018

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WHEN I POSTED ABOUT #faribofrosty last week, a blogger and reader from Pittsburgh asked for under-construction photo documentation of the mega snowman in the front yard of the Hoisington family home in Faribault.

Well, I didn’t have any sculpting images. I knew only that Andy Hoisington, assisted by other family members, shapes the gigantic snowman by hand, literally, and by shovel. Andy pulls out a ladder (he’s a painter) when Frosty grows beyond his reach. Andy is tall, btw.

All of this handcrafting is quite an accomplishment really given the snowman’s height, which is maybe 15 feet (just guessing here). Magical, you might say.

Visual proof of how Faribo Frosty came to be eluded me. Until Saturday. My 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter was in town for a long overdue overnight stay. And on our list of to-do items was posing for photos with Frosty. Izzy is at that magical age of discovery. Frosty would impress her.

But, when we pulled up to view Frosty, we saw a snowman stripped of his bright red scarf, his top hat, his pipe, his arms, even his face. Not particularly exciting, a blob of snow.

 

Andy and Jake work on Faribo Frosty early Saturday afternoon.

 

Then I remembered the request from Ruth in Pittsburgh to take photos of the snowman under construction. While this was repair rather than an original build, it still documents the process. I rolled down the van window and shot a few frames. Then I asked Andy when he and his son Jake would be done with their work. Frosty was suffering from heat-related issues. Yes, a day of 30-plus-degree temps in December sunshine is not good for a snowman, even one as big as Faribo Frosty.

 

Andy, lead snowman builder.

“Come back in two hours,” Andy shouted from high on the ladder.

 

Grandpa and Izzy build their own Frosty in our backyard.

 

 

Well, that wouldn’t work for us. We had a vintage snowmobile show to attend, a stop at the library for books and then back home so Izzy could build a snowman with Grandpa before making roll-out Christmas cookies. Then we had to get to the children’s Christmas service at church by 5:30 p.m. Frosty would have to wait until Sunday. Izzy seemed fine with that given she could now glimpse her very own snowman from the kitchen window. She refused, though, to pose for a photo. In fact, she told me to “Go back inside, Grandma,” when she spotted me poking my head out the back door with my camera.

 

Izzy gets her first close-up look at Faribo Frosty in Grandpa’s arms.

 

 

 

 

Thankfully on Sunday, Izzy mostly cooperated. She even hugged Frosty when I prompted her. It was a sweet and magical moment. This would be a much better world if we all paused to hug a snowman.

 

 

We fit in our photo shoot before a group of Vikings, and Faribo Frosty, fans arrived. While we were there, drivers and passengers in two vehicles also slowed down for a look. This snowman’s popularity has soared given his new social media presence. He’s making a lot of people happy, including me and my granddaughter.

 

 

Thank you, Hoisington family, for your ongoing efforts to bring holiday joy to the Faribault community. I appreciate you. And so does Izzy.

FYI: Faribo Frosty is located at the intersection of First Street Northwest and Third Avenue Northwest in Faribault (18 Third Ave. N.W. precisely).

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How you can help a Faribault family dealing with loss & cancer December 18, 2018

Nate and Jackie Howells and family of Faribault.

 

IT’S BAD ENOUGH when parents lose a young child. But to endure such a tragedy shortly before Christmas deepens the pain.

This is the reality for a Faribault couple whose almost 4-year-old son, Casimir, died on December 13. On his first birthday on December 27, 2015, Casi aspirated a small object and stopped breathing. According to a Facebook page entry, he lost consciousness and went into cardiac arrest. The object was removed surgically. He then suffered seizure-like convulsions and was placed on life support. About two months later, Casi left the hospital and has since needed 24/7 health care. Now he’s gone.

 

 

But there’s more. Nate and Jackie Howells’ 10-year-old son, Xavier (known as Iggy), is battling metastasized cancer (rhabdomyosarcoma) diagnosed a year ago. He’s undergone surgery and continues with chemo. He’ll likely need another eight months of treatment.

Nate quit his job teaching children with autism at Jefferson Elementary School in Faribault to better care for Iggy. The Howells have four other children.

As I consider all of that, I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the situation. How can one family possibly endure so much? Loss. Grief. Pain. Uncertainty. Worry. It’s a lot to handle.

 

Iggy’s soccer team wore these shirts honoring their goalie.

 

While none of us can remove the emotional pain the Howells feel, we can pray for, support, encourage, uplift, help and care for them. Nate’s friend and former co-worker Lisa (also my friend) has established a gofundme page, Iggy Strong. She’s set a $43,000 goal, meant to replace Nate’s lost paycheck and cover daily living (think gas, groceries, etc.) and other expenses. Thus far donors have contributed nearly $8,500.

The $43K is a lot of money to raise. But I know people, when they see a need, rise to meet it. I am grateful to Lisa for initiating this effort, for reaching out to others (including me) who in turn can share this need. If you can give, please do so by clicking here. You’ll also find more details on Iggy’s battle with cancer.

 

Iggy

 

There’s such sweetness in that freckled face. Such a signature boyish look that just makes me, as a mom, want to wrap my arms around Iggy. And his family.

 

Photos are courtesy of Lisa M. Bolt Simons, via the Howells family
© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Lighting up the holidays with a Winterfest parade December 16, 2018

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Two weeks prior, city of Faribault snowplows were clearing eight inches of snow on the original date of the Parade of Lights. The rescheduled (due to the snowstorm) parade included the festive city snowplow.

 

WITH LIGHTS ALL AGLOW, from ground to sky, Faribault showcased its holiday spirit Friday evening during a festive Parade of Lights.

 

Across from Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a crowd gathers outside Bernie’s Grill.

 

Warm temps hovering near 30 degrees brought out all ages to the second annual Winterfest. I was there, on the corner by third-generation family-owned Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, taking it all in.

 

Looking north on Central Avenue to the crowd waiting for the 5:30 p.m. fireworks and then the parade.

 

I sensed the anticipation as the crowd swelled, waiting for the fireworks followed by the parade.

 

 

Except for an inability to see only the highest fireworks over the tall buildings along Central Avenue, everything else went seemingly well.

 

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer tops a Faribault police vehicle.

 

 

A Faribault fire truck.

 

The back of the fire truck is a colorful blur of lights as it moves down Central Avenue.

 

Another entry from the city of Faribault.

 

The murmur of conversation, the rock of familiar holiday tunes like Jingle Bells, the bobbing of Santa hats, the flash of holiday lights…all created a real sense of holiday joy. I felt it. I heard it. I saw it.

 

One of my favorite units: sheep and a “wool blanket” on a “bed” representing the iconic Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

There’s something about an event like this that makes us all pause and celebrate, as a community, the spirit of Christmas. Faribault needed this. I needed this.

 

No holiday parade is complete without Santa and Mrs. Claus, here on the Elks Lodge float.

 

Keeping everyone safe…

 

Loved the gingerbread house.

 

To Faribault Main Street and to all who participated in the parade—from the Boy Scouts to the firefighters to local businesses and many more—thank you. You gave us all a gift on Friday evening. You brought holiday joy to Central Avenue, to our Minnesota community.

 

After the parade, the crowd disperses.

 

Parade-goers absolutely embraced these 45 minutes of Winterfest, this opportunity to unite and celebrate the holiday season in Faribault.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting a community at a Christmas dinner in a church basement December 13, 2018

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

EVERY COMMUNITY HAS ITS HOLIDAY TRADITIONS. There’s comfort in that sameness, in the sense of community constructed from repeating events. Faribault is no exception.

Each December the Paradise Center for the Arts features a holiday play. Every year the Rice County Historical Society hosts A French-Canadian Christmas at the Alexander Faribault House. Every December Shattuck-St. Mary’s School invites the community to A Campus Christmas Walk.

 

Dining at a previous Community Christmas Dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And on one Sunday in mid-December, Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church serves a Community Christmas Dinner. There’s something about sitting down with others for a good home-cooked meal that fosters an even stronger sense of community. Food brings people together in conversation. We need more of that—pulling up folding chairs in a church basement to talk between bites of mashed potatoes and gravy. Comfort in food and in conversation.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a past dinner. This year pork will replace the turkey.

 

Fourth Avenue hosts its annual Christmas dinner from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Sunday, December 16. I’ve attended numerous times, photographed the event nearly every time. I delight in the words chosen to promote the dinner: Your Friends at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Invite you to be our Honored Guest at a day of Feasting and Fellowship with your Neighbors.

Reread that. Friends. Honored Guest. Fellowship. Neighbors.

Those words exude warmth, welcome and a sense of care and community. Your economic status, your job status, your situation—none of that matters. You are welcome.

 

Volunteer Madeline serves Christmas cake at a past dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Welcome to enjoy a meal of roast pork and stuffing, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coleslaw, freshly baked rolls and Christmas cupcakes. The menu has changed slightly from previous years. But that’s OK. I like pork (actually more than turkey). And Christmas cupcakes can replace Christmas cake.

 

Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I expect to see a crew of volunteers busy as ever cooking, serving, clearing tables, washing dishes… It takes a well-organized team to pull together a home-cooked meal for the community. I appreciate this gift which extends beyond those being fed. Monies collected from a freewill offering will benefit Operation 23 to Zero, which assists vets in need.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. Be sure to read the sign on the wall above the kitchen window.

 

This Community Christmas Dinner is about so much more than food. It’s about care and comfort and connecting and community. And hope. It embodies the spirit of Christmas.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: #faribofrosty December 12, 2018

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BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME. The kids. The moms. The dads. The grandmas and grandpas. To see Faribault’s version of Frosty the Snowman.

 

 

Late Saturday afternoon, as day glided into the golden light of early evening, family after family pulled over at the corner of First Street Northwest and Third Avenue Northwest to take photos with a ginormous snowman created by the Hoisington family. It is their annual holiday gift to the community, a gift which brings lots of smiles and joy.

 

 

I witnessed that as kids and families posed for pictures with the towering snowman in the Hoisingtons’ front yard.

 

 

 

 

They came in their Paul Bunyan buffalo plaid and fur caps and hats, some with ear flappers, some not. They came in their boots and sneakers, their jeans, some ripped, some not. They came to see this towering snowman popular enough to now have his own hashtag, #faribofrosty.

 

 

I delighted in these families making memories on a cold December day in southern Minnesota.

 

 

Faribo Frosty embodies the spirit of giving. Faribo Frosty embodies the spirit of joy. Faribo Frosty embodies a sense of togetherness, of family, of community.

 

 

For a moment or ten, a snowman focuses thoughts and vision and the world seems a magical and happy place.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“The Santa Diaries II” debuts in Faribault with humor & so much more December 11, 2018

From The Merlin Players Facebook page.

 

WHEN I ATTENDED The Merlin Players’ performance of The Santa Diaries four years ago at the Paradise Center for the Arts, I laughed. And I cried. Playwrights and performers brought a moving message coupled with comedy to the stage.

And now they’ve done it again in A Christmas Wedding—The Santa Diaries II. I attended Saturday evening, a day after the play debuted. Writers Laura Ambler and Mala Burt flew in from Maryland to watch as a talented cast—many of whom performed in the first Santa Diaries—took the stage.

The play focuses on a Hollywood couple returning to their hometown for their desired small town Christmas wedding. Except others have other ideas, including making the wedding a reality TV event. So the story evolves with humor aplenty, conflict and discerning what’s most important in life. Choose fame and fortune? Or love, happiness and contentment?

I realized part way into the play that I was smiling nearly non-stop. That says a lot for the writing and the performing. But when the script got serious, my thoughts turned introspective also. Like the characters in the play, we all have choices to make, especially this time of year. It’s easy to get caught up in finding the perfect gift, the material things that we think will make us, or our loved ones, happy. But really, it is the gift of time, of being with family and friends, that’s most important. I left the theater with that point reinforced.

I also left with awe at The Merlin Players’ performance, echoed by the playwrights with whom I chatted briefly. Laura Ambler praised the cast. I did, too, But I also praised her writing and that of co-writer Mala Burt. It takes a good, strong script to make a play successful as much as good, strong performers and production staff.

And there were many talented actors and actresses. Plus singers. Solos by Mandie Siems and Paige Pick held a quality of pureness. I could sense the raptness of the audience as the two sang.

I especially appreciated the ways in which the play became distinctly Minnesotan, even distinctly Faribault. Local radio personality Gordy Kosfeld voiced the radio announcer. Casseroles became hotdish, at least in one reference. Poinsettias set on stage came from Donahue’s Greenhouse, so said one of the performers. Details like that endear a performance to a local audience.

The playwrights also endeared themselves to me in their appreciation of Faribault, telling me how much they enjoyed the fresh snow and exploring my community. I loved hearing that. Locals don’t always appreciate Faribault’s historic setting and small town feel. This really is a special place.

And that includes the Paradise Center for the Arts. I am so grateful to have this arts center in the heart of our historic downtown with professional theater and so much more available locally.

FYI: Additional performances of A Christmas Wedding–The Santa Diaries II are set for 7:30 p.m. on December 13, 14, and 15 and at 2 p.m. December 16 at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling