Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My Halloween horror story October 31, 2019

From a Halloween display in Hayfield, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHAT SCARES YOU? I mean really scares you.

Is it the current state of our political climate? Climate change? Changes in your personal life? Life that feels overwhelming? Overwhelmingly high health insurance rates?

There’s so much to concern us. And I would place check marks in front of several items on that list, the most recent being health insurance premiums. Ours are increasing again. And I am seriously stressing about the additional $120/month we will pay for insurance that is nothing but a catastrophic plan. Our deductibles will rise from $4,000 each to $4,250 each come January 1.

I don’t pretend to be good at math. Words are my thing. But no matter that lack of skill set, I understand that the health insurance premium numbers are not good for our budget and have not been for years. I joke with my husband that he will need to pay his employer to work for him given the amount deducted from paychecks for insurance. Randy’s employer pays half of his premium, none of mine. I’m on Randy’s plan because I’m self-employed.

Now let me show you the numbers: In 2020, our monthly premiums will each be $1,149 for a total of $2,298 every single month. Of that, we will pay $1,723/month, which totals $20,677/year. And then we have those $4,250 individual deductibles before the insurance even kicks in.

This is absolutely absurd. There are no other words to describe the financial challenges we are facing because of health insurance rates that are through the roof ridiculous. No wonder we don’t go on big vacations, drive vehicles that are 15 and 17 years old, seldom dine out, have a vintage kitchen in need of a complete re-do, windows that need replacing, siding that needs paint or replacement…and don’t want to go to the doctor because we can’t afford to go to the doctor. Much of our income is funneled directly to the health insurance company rather than being pumped into the general economy. Sigh.

I never thought that at our age—in our early 60s—we would be in this financial situation because of health insurance premiums.

So what am I doing about this? Screaming, venting, crying, stressing. But I’ve also set up an appointment with a MNsure navigator to see if we qualify for any type of financial assistance. When I checked a few years back, that proved fruitless. I’m not especially hopeful this time either.

There you go, my financial horror story just in time for Halloween. I am thankful Randy and I both grew up in really poor families so we are not materialistic. We manage to pay all of our bills, get food on the table…and still donate to charities. We paid off our home mortgage years ago and I’m thankful we did.

But we never expected this overwhelming financial burden as we looked to the future and are nearing retirement.

This Halloween I’m not scared of things that go bump in the night. I’m scared of health insurance premiums.

THOUGHTS? Do you have similar health insurance horror stories?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Vintage snapshots from Vergas October 30, 2019

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THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT AN AGED pick-up truck… Perhaps it’s the agrarian connection or the nostalgic appeal. Or even the vehicle design that conveys comfort in its rounded shape.

Whatever the reasons, I am draw to vintage pick-up trucks. Randy, too. He wishes he owned one. And a 1964 Chevy, too.

But since we don’t and never will, I settle for visual enjoyment with my eyes and through the camera lens.

 

 

As I waited in the van recently for Randy outside a Vergas, Minnesota convenience store, a lovely old pick-up pulled up to the gas pumps. Without hesitation, I grabbed my camera, stepped from the van and snapped a few images of the portable piece of art temporarily parked at the pump.

 

 

And then I swung my camera the other way to photograph the store exterior because that appealed to me visually also with its welcoming front porch and log cabin style design.

 

 

Then we were off to find the world famous Vergas loon sculpture. And, as we passed through the business district, I snap-shotted the hardware store sign through the window. Because I have this thing about hardware stores, too, and about signs. Small town memories and art.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All about loons in Otter Tail County & beyond in Minnesota October 28, 2019

The world’s largest loon sculpture in Vergas, Minnesota.

 

IN MINNESOTA WE HAVE the comedic and musical actresses the Looney Lutherans, who showcase our ya, sure you betcha Scandinavian image. We decorate our Up North cabins with loon décor in honor of our state bird. Minnesota writer Gerald Anderson features the loon in Murder Under the Loon as part of his An Otter Tail County Mystery series. And if all that loon madness isn’t enough, the village of Vergas boasts the world’s largest loon sculpture.

 

 

Look closely at the sign in the photo above and you will see this rock art balancing on the sign.

 

This rock art left on the dock by the FM Rock Hounds made me smile.

 

Aquatic life up close in Long Lake.

 

Recently I sought out that roadside art while in Otter Tail County. I always appreciate kitschy art that defines a place. And Vergas, population 350, is all about embracing loons. Each August, the community celebrates Looney Daze. The Frazee-Vergas baseball team is named the Loons. And then there’s that 20-foot tall loon statue looming over Long Lake.

 

 

But finding that loon proved difficult, even after getting instructions from a local to follow that road (he pointed), turn right, cross the tracks… No loon. Eventually Randy and I found the loon sculpture dedicated in 1963 to Postmaster Ewald C. Krueger. The Vergas Fire Department sponsored the community project.

 

The only loon I’ve ever seen up close.

 

Now, if I actually spotted a real loon up close, I will have completed my loon fix. But I’ve only ever seen them from a distance, in the middle of a lake. You see, even though the loon is our state bird, it is primarily a central or northern Minnesota bird. Not necessarily representative of the entire state.

 

 

But the loon is representative of one small Minnesota town situated in the lake country of Otter Tail County.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My latest photo essay features the place that sparked my creativity October 25, 2019

Minnesota State Highway 68 near Morgan in my native southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ROOTED IN THE MINNESOTA PRAIRIE. Those words summarize my most recent photo essay published in the regional lifestyle magazine Southern Minn Scene. The four-page Through a SoMinn Lens spread features 23 of my photos, all from the southwestern Minnesota prairie. Some are recent while others are pulled from my extensive files. All were selected to showcase the land that shaped me as a person, a writer and a photographer.

My images and words fit the theme of this month’s issue, “the best of southern Minnesota.” In 2014, my Minnesota Prairie Roots blog was voted the Best Local Blog/Blogger in this annual competition. Bloggers are no longer included in the contest which spans theater to restaurants to breweries and a wide range of businesses, events and people in southeastern Minnesota. I learned a lot paging through the winners’ summaries.

I welcome you to meet the entrepreneurs and others who garnered the winning votes from readers. Please take time also to view my photo essay (beginning on page 46) about the prairie place that roots me.

Click here to read the November issue of Southern Minn Scene.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An October afternoon at Dunton Locks County Park October 24, 2019

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A stunning autumn scene sets the backdrop for this dock at Dunton Locks County Park, rural Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

 

OCTOBER MARKS ONE of those months when we Minnesotans feel the need to get outdoors as often as possible, to take in the autumnal hues, the sunny skies, the measured days of light and warmth. Too soon winter arrives and all the glories of October become but a memory.

 

 

 

 

In recent weeks, I’ve added pages to my autumn memories via viewing vistas of landscapes turning from green to the oranges, reds, yellows and browns of the season. Like at Dunton Locks County Park outside Detroit Lakes. It’s a lovely place just a short drive south of this northwestern Minnesota city. Here trees hug shorelines and trails lead through dense woods.

 

 

 

 

On the late Wednesday afternoon of our visit, lots of folks enjoyed the park on a particularly glorious day. A woman fished. A guy gazed toward the water from the bridge spanning the rapids linking Muskrat Lake and Lake Salle. A kindergartner and her mom collected colored leaves. A young family—new baby girl bundled against Mom and second son riding atop Dad’s shoulders while oldest son ran ahead—hiked in this park within a mile of their home.

 

 

 

 

There’s something about being outdoors on a beautiful day that brings us all together to appreciate the simple things in life. A sunny day. Crunch of drying leaves underfoot. The sound and rush of water roaring over rocks. The overwhelming feeling of gratitude for living in a place like Minnesota where we have easy access to public parks, where open space is abundant and where, on an autumn afternoon, folks delight in the beauty of this land.

 

BONUS PHOTO:

 

Rails for a mechanical boat tram run across the grass between two lakes at the park. The tram operates from Memorial Day to Labor Day and transports boats between Muskrat Lake and Lake Salle.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Experiencing a Northfield, Minnesota apple orchard October 23, 2019

 

THE CARNIVAL SCENT of donuts permeated the autumn air as I stepped from the van in the gravel parking lot of Fireside Orchard & Gardens. For years I’ve wanted to visit this Northfield area orchard and try the fresh-from-the-fryer apple cinnamon donuts. Apples were secondary to this first-ever visit.

 

Numerous rose gardens grace the property.

 

While many of the roses were no longer blooming, I found enough to dip my nose into.

 

Walking toward the retail store, I spotted this sign.

 

After stopping to smell a few roses in the frontyard rose garden, I aimed straight for the retail store and the source of that sugary cinnamon scent. The place was busy with people buying bags of apples, cups of apple cider, fudge, caramel apples and those donuts that couldn’t come off the fryer conveyor fast enough. Fireside also offers a lot more foods, including bacon ketchup (not made on-site).

 

Most of the apple trees we saw, but not all, were picked clean of fruit.

 

I figured I better sample a few apples first. I tried SnowSweet and Sugar Bee, both new apples to me, and the familiar Honey Crisp. Hands down, Honey Crisp remains my favorite apple, developed right here in Minnesota.

 

There are lots of apple varieties filling these coolers.

 

I watched donuts roll off the fryer.

 

The hardworking young employee.

 

By the time I’d finished my third apple slice, Randy had already purchased a half dozen of those coveted donuts. We headed out the back door, right behind the kid pushing a cart holding a crate of apples. His job seemed that of keeping apples in stock as I watched him several times hustle between nearby storage building and retail store.

 

A pond centers the grounds.

 

Ornamental berries pop color into the landscape.

 

An overview of the pond looking toward the orchard.

 

This place was abuzz with people enjoying a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon in rural Minnesota. Fireside is a truly welcoming place with assorted sitting areas, yard games and property open to wandering—from orchard to rose gardens.

 

Pumpkins aplenty…

 

Apples aplenty…

 

Gourds aplenty…

 

Pumpkins and gourds for sale add to the seasonal appeal.

 

I considered for a moment asking Randy to take a picture of me by the tractor.

 

Two parked vintage tractors present fun rural photo ops. This is just a relaxing family-friendly and dog-friendly place that is family-run.

 

The barn style building design is especially welcoming with covered open air spaces.

 

Within a half hour drive of the south metro, just 1.5 miles east of Interstate 35 along Minnesota State Highway 19, Fireside Orchard is conveniently-located, easy to find. A fun and beautiful place to visit.

 

A note posted inside the retail store from a grateful teacher.

 

As for those apple cinnamon donuts, they were a tad greasy, just as one would expect from a fair-type food. I’m certain I’ll return to Fireside. I love orchards like this that realize folks today want more than just a place to buy apples. They want an experience.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite apple orchard? If yes, tell me why it’s your favorite.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Sunday afternoon autumn drive in Rice County October 22, 2019

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A beautiful oak tree along the shore of Union Lake at Albers Park, Rice County, Minnesota.

 

IN THIS TOO WET and too gloomy of Minnesota autumns, days like this past weekend are a gift. Sunshine and dry weather. Trees morphing from green into sometimes blazing red. Skies still and beautiful and the scent of earth and harvest prevailing.

 

One of my favorite places to photograph in rural Rice County in autumn: the shoreline of Kelly Lake.

 

A mass of maple leaves at Albers Park.

 

From the shores of Union Lake, the steps leading down to the lake at Albers Park.

 

On Sunday afternoon we took a drive through western Rice County to view the fall colors. I needed the outing after a week of mostly lying around feeling awful. An all too early in the flu season virus struck me hard. Residuals remain and I’m still not back to 100 percent.

 

Across the water, colorful trees line the shore of Kelly Lake.

 

Autumn beauty in a single leaf.

 

A playground at Albers Park stands empty on a beautiful October Sunday afternoon.

 

But a few hours away from home viewing the changing landscape, taking photos and walking about in the beauty of autumn lifted my spirits considerably. Especially since I missed my niece Katie’s wedding on Saturday. Nothing will make up for that. But such is life. I knew wedding guests wouldn’t appreciate my not entirely healthy presence.

 

Not everyone could play like me on Sunday. Farmers were working hard to harvest crops on a rare sunny day.

 

On a beautiful autumn afternoon in southeastern Minnesota, none of that mattered. Sunshine does the soul good. So do fresh air and thoughts focused outward instead of inward.

The afternoon ended perfectly with a stop at an area apple orchard. More to come on that.

 

Maple leaves up close.

 

I hope that you, like me, have found time to delight in these closing days of autumn. Trees in colorful glory. Sun streaming. Scents of harvest and earth rising.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling