Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The art of Decorah, Part II November 27, 2018

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A close-up of stacked stones at Phelps Park in Decorah, Iowa, where the Civilian Conservation Corps crafted walls, a fountain and more.

 

WHEN YOU THINK public art, what pops into your mind? Sculptures? Murals? Sidewalk poetry? All fit the definition.

 

An example of the stone art at Phelps Park.

 

But public art stretches beyond the obvious. If you look for it, you will see art everywhere, as I did on a September visit to Decorah. This northeastern Iowa river town is rich in art, natural and otherwise.

 

In a downtown Decorah plaza, “Doe and Fawn” by Victoria Reed.

 

Art enriches a place by adding texture, interest, depth.

 

Look up to see this sculpture on the Nelson & Co building in downtown Decorah.

 

Art personalizes a place with character.

 

The colorful mural by The Cardboard Robot.

 

Art colors a town with vibrancy.

 

On display at Donlon Toy Jungle (inside Donlon Pharmacy), this 6-foot KNEX Ferris Wheel.

 

Details posted with that Ferris Wheel build.

 

Just another angle of the KNEX Ferris Wheel.

 

Art brings a community together, creating a cohesiveness that unites in working toward a common goal.

 

An artful door leading to apartments in downtown Decorah.

 

Art comforts.

 

Stacked stone art in Dunning’s Spring.

 

Art empowers, strengthens.

 

Inside The Cardboard Robot, shoppers are encouraged to be hands-on creative.

 

Art expands our imaginations to create.

 

This new bridge at Dunning’s Spring Park replicates a stone bridge of 140 years ago. Master stone mason Ted Wilson crafted the bridge along with Sean Smyth. The bridge features dry stonewalling, meaning there’s no mortar between joints.

 

We need art. Today more than ever. To bridge our differences.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I love Decorah, Part I November 26, 2018

Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in downtown Decorah draws many visitors interested in learning about their heritage.

 

TWICE I’VE VISITED DECORAH in northeastern Iowa. It’s one of those towns that feels comfortable, inviting, an ideal destination for someone who prefers rural to urban.

 

Decorah is named after Ho-Chunk Chief Waukon Decorah. I spotted this portrait by noted artist Charles Philip Hexom on a stairway wall at the public library.

 

What makes Decorah so appealing to me?

 

 

 

 

The architecture.

 

“Doe and Fawn” sculptures by Victoria Reed stand in a public plaza near a downtown co-op.

 

Love this mural of “Irene” painted by Valerie Miller of Steel Cow.

 

A stone sculpture on the Nelson & Co. building.

 

The art.

One of my favorite spots in Decorah, the waterfall at Dunning’s Spring Park, site of a former grist mill and gifted to the city in 1946.

 

The natural beauty.

 

Valdres House, one of many authentic Norwegian rooted buildings at Vesterheim. This is a typical Norwegian landowner’s house, dismantled and shipped from Norway to Decorad in the mid 1970s.

 

The downtown shops and eateries. The city’s appreciation of its strong Norwegian heritage, even if I’m of German heritage.

And the people. While at Pulpit Rock Brewing, Randy and I shared a picnic table with a young couple and their daughter (and her grandpa). They were quick to answer our questions about places to eat, sleep and explore.

Upon their recommendation, we stayed at a new hotel on the edge of town and met a trio of college friends together for their annual girlfriends’ reunion. They welcomed us into their circle at a gas-fired campfire on a perfect early autumn evening. When did hotels start adding this amenity? I loved it. There’s something about fire…

 

The Upper Iowa River runs through the 34-acre Decorah Community Prairie and Butterfly Garden. This view is from a scenic overlook in Phelps Park.

 

And water. Water is part of the draw for me to this river town.

 

Magnificent stone work at Phelps Park, which also includes a fountain (not on at the time of my visit) crafted from stone.

 

Upon the recommendation of the family at the brewery, we sought out Phelps Park. There we found extensive stonework done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I often wonder when I see such work, “How did they build this without modern equipment?”

Outside an historic downtown building with a corner tower, I chatted it up with an elderly man on a bench. He drives in from the farm every morning to meet friends for coffee and to sit and people-watch. He lives out by the supper club, he said, which meant nothing to me. But I pretended like it did. He’ll never see me again.

That’s the thing about travel. If you engage with the locals, you’ll learn a thing or ten about the place you’re visiting. Stuff you won’t find on a website, stuff best learned in conversation.

TELL ME: Do you chat it up with locals when you’re traveling? I’d like to hear your stories.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from Decorah. Have you ever visited Decorah and, if so, what appeals to you there?

NOTE: I took these photos during a mid-September visit to Decorah. The landscape obviously looks much different today. So if you’re not inclined to visit this Iowa city now, think ahead to next spring or summer.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

More from Decorah, Iowa, my “new” favorite historic town July 26, 2013

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The Blue Heron Knittery is housed in this historic building.

The Blue Heron Knittery is housed in this historic building.

FOR SOMEONE LIKE ME who delights in historic buildings, the northeastern Iowa river town of Decorah offers an ideal destination for viewing an abundance of aged architecture.

If you're of Norwegian ancestry, which I'm not, you'll especially enjoy Decorah. Be ware the trolls and gnomes.

If you’re of Norwegian ancestry, which I’m not, you’ll especially enjoy Decorah. Be ware the trolls and gnomes.

But downtown Decorah is about so much more. It’s about Norwegians and shopping and a river town with a distinct personality. This weekend, July 25 – 27, Decorah celebrates its annual Nordic Fest. Click here to learn more.

That said, here’s Part III in my photo tour of downtown Decorah:

Numerous buildings feature sweet little balconies.

Numerous buildings feature sweet little balconies.

A side street off the main route through downtown.

A side street off the main route through downtown.

Lovely signage...

Lovely signage…

So much variation in building design and height.

So much variation in building design and height.

Love this original signage on the old screen door that bangs behind you at

Love this original signage on the old screen door that bangs behind you at La Rana, a charming restaurant.

Vanberia, where you can shop for all things Norwegian.

Vanberia, where you can shop for all things Norwegian.

Norwegian art in the entry to

This art, in the entry of the Westby-Torgerson Education Center, celebrates the Norwegian heritage.

I noticed Santa in this second story window.

I noticed Santa in this second story window.

Shopping for antiques in the basement of Eckheart Gallery.

Shopping for antiques and collectibles in the basement of Eckheart Gallery.

Windowboxes abound.

Windowboxes abound.

Look close for remnants of the past.

Look close for remnants of the past.

Sweet architecture.

Sweet architecture.

FYI: Click here to view a previous downtown post. Click here to view a post on Storypeople. And click here to see a local favorite ice cream spot, The Whippy Dip, which is near downtown.

Watch for more posts from Decorah.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Delighting in the historic Hotel Winneshiek in Decorah, Iowa July 12, 2013

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The historic Hotel Winneshiek, 104 East Water Street, has transitioned through the years from hotel to apartments and back to its original historic hotel grandeur.

The historic Hotel Winneshiek, 104 East Water Street, has transitioned through the years from hotel to apartments and back to its near original historic grandeur.

WE ALMOST DID NOT ASK, almost passed by Hotel Winneshiek in downtown Decorah, Iowa.

But what the heck, why not ask about the cost of staying overnight in this historic hotel, my husband and I decided on a recent visit to this river town.

Our room, number 305.

Our room, number 305.

Much to our absolute delight and surprise, we booked a third-floor room for $105 (that includes local and state taxes and an AARP discount). That’s less than we’ve paid for a room at a chain hotel in Fargo, North Dakota, and less than we paid the following night for a stay at another chain hotel in Marquette, Iowa, both minus in-room whirlpools.

Inside the mood-setting Atrium.

Inside the mood-setting Atrium.

Looking down into the Atrium.

Looking down into the Atrium.

And then looking up to the beautiful stained glass above.

And then looking up to the beautiful stained glass above.

The Beaux-Arts style Hotel Winneshiek, built between 1904-1905 and restored in 2000 to near original construction, impresses with its terrazzo floors, marble walls, cherry woodwork, octagon rotunda/three-story atrium, stained glass and a general feel of luxurious elegance.

Even the sconces and room signage fit the historic mood.

Even the sconces and room signage fit the historic mood. Details impress.

Often I struggle to sleep well in a hotel. But in our corner room (with a king bed and a whirlpool bath) overlooking the back parking lot, I slept deep and long. That, in itself, earns a star rating.

Norway’s Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Martha even stayed here in 1939 in a three-room suite.

The entry features this luxurious lobby and current cow art.

The entry features this luxurious lobby and current cow art.

Moving toward the atrium, note the stained glass and pillars and original flooring.

Moving toward the atrium, note the stained glass and pillars and original flooring.

Check in at the stout front desk with a friendly staff. You'll receive a packet of valuable info on Decorah.

Check in at the stout front desk with a friendly staff. You’ll receive a welcome packet of information on Decorah.

Hotel Winneshiek is suited for royalty. From the minute we entered the hotel, paused in the impressive corridor and then walked up to the front desk in the stunning Atrium, I felt sheltered, cocooned and transported in time. You get that kind of Old World comfortable feel here.

Hotel Winneshiek is conveniently located in the heart of historic downtown Decorah.

Hotel Winneshiek is conveniently located in the heart of historic downtown Decorah.

For someone like me who appreciates historic architecture and details, this marked the perfect place to spend a night in the heart of Decorah’s historic downtown. We could walk to shops and eateries. The hotel complex includes Albert’s Restaurant and Pub, where we didn’t dine, but perhaps should have. We heard good recommendations later.

On the hotel exterior, I noted this sculpture.

On the hotel exterior, I noted this sculpture.

The relocated grand stairway and a mural featuring the gardens on former hotel owner, Chicago philanthropist Helen Basler. Today the hotel is owned by Northfield, Minnesota-based Rebound Hospitality.

The relocated grand stairway and a mural, right, featuring the gardens of former hotel owner, Chicago philanthropist Helen Basler. Today the hotel is owned by Northfield, Minnesota-based Rebound Hospitality. Basler had the hotel restored to its near original state in 2000.

Now, I would not recommend arriving in Decorah without a reservation at the 31-room Hotel Winneshiek, if that’s where you really want to stay. I expect we were fortunate to find a room available on a Monday night as walk-in guests.

An inviting scene in a hallway of the hotel.

An inviting scene in a hallway of the hotel.

Just so you are not surprised, room rates start at $109 (plus applicable taxes) and reach up to $249 (plus taxes) for the Presidential Suite.

And, because you may wonder like me about that name, Winneshiek was the chief of the Winnebago Indians. Decorah is located in Winneshiek County and the historic Hotel Winneshiek therein. To learn more about the hotel’s history, click here.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Ask about touring the former opera house in the Steyer Building next to, and connected to, the hotel. Here's a view of the refurbished area, which is considerably different in lay-out from the original.

Ask about touring the former opera house in the Steyer Building next to, and connected to, the hotel. Here’s a view of the refurbished area, which is considerably different in lay-out from the original.

Another view of the same room shows the balcony and the seating area below.

Another view of the same room shows the balcony and the seating area below. This space is used for receptions, reunions, etc.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At home with Storypeople in Decorah, Iowa July 11, 2013

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NOTHING IN DECORAH, IOWA, compares to Storypeople.

The Vibrant mural on one of Storypeople's buildings.

Part of the vibrant mural on one of Storypeople’s buildings.

Among the primarily earthy buildings in this historic downtown, the vibrant splashes of Storypeople art defy like a tightrope walker daring to tread without a net.

The Storypeople workshop exterior pops with vibrant colors and images. I'll tell you more about Storypeople in a future post.

The Storypeople building pops with color.

Historic puritans may take issue with the bold hues and quirky drawings. But I find them thrilling and invigorating and an unexpected jolt of colorful creativity in this river town.

This studio is located in a different building than the one pictured above.

This studio is located in a different building than the one pictured above.

Inside the Storypeople studio, a mishmash of bold colors—red paint splashed upon the floor, stacked paint cans, paint-tipped brushes, colorful stacks of books and wood, and more—define this as a creative place, a spot to spin a story with words and images.

Storypeople books from which I chose one.

Storypeople books from which I chose one.

It is what the people of Storypeople do best—create stories shared in books and cards and art and such.

At work...

At work…

I would love to work here.

Materials and products.

Materials, products and inspiration.

And because I dared to step inside the studio, so I was told, I walked out with a complimentary book and greeting card. And I didn’t even mention that I was a blogger.

A sign on the door.

A sign on the door.

TO LEARN MORE about Storypeople, click here. Storypeople products are sold in 240 galleries world-wide.

A creative paint station.

A creative paint station.

Work in progress...

Work in progress…

One final look. This place makes me happy.

One final look. This place makes me happy.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reason number one to visit Decorah, Iowa: The historic architecture July 10, 2013

The architecture on the historic buildings is incredible.

The architecture on the historic buildings is incredible.

“MOM, YOU’LL LOVE DECORAH.”

Except for getting sprayed with soda while dining at an Italian eatery (and no amends made save a perfunctory “sorry”), my husband and I loved this northeastern Iowa river town.

Our daughter Miranda, who visited a college friend here last summer, was right. We delighted in Decorah’s historic architecture, natural beauty and small town ambiance.

That Norwegian museum we need to tour next time we're in Decorah.

That Norwegian museum we need to tour next time we’re in Decorah.

Home to Luther College and the world’s largest collection of Norwegian artifacts at the Vesterheim—The National Norwegian-American Museum and Heritage Center, Decorah definitely presents a college town feel and an ethnic bend toward Norwegians. Interestingly enough, we didn’t tour either Luther or the Vesterheim. Next trip, because we will return.

Blue Heron Knittery is housed in the lower level of this architecturally stunning corner building in downtown Decorah.

Blue Heron Knittery is housed in the lower level of this architecturally stunning corner building in downtown Decorah.

So what exactly did we see? Mostly, we simply strolled through downtown admiring the historic buildings and occasionally popping into charming shops in this city of some 8,000.

On a Tuesday morning, the streets were teeming with pedestrians, including this Amish man from southeastern Minnesota.

On a Tuesday morning, the streets were teeming with pedestrians, including this Amish man from southeastern Minnesota.

Decorah, with numerous one-way streets, plenty of stoplights, an abundance of benches, information kiosks, bike racks, and planters overflowing with vibrant flowers and vining plants, rates as an especially pedestrian friendly community. First impressions count and this Iowa town does a splendid job of making visitors feel welcome via the relaxed setting created in the downtown business district.

It's the details that count, that show a community truly cares like vibrant plants in windowboxes.

It’s the details that count in creating an inviting downtown shopping experience.

Join me as we begin our journey through Decorah, today with a peek at that historic architecture and other photo-worthy snippets in the downtown.

So much to see along Decorah's downtown city streets.

So much to see along Decorah’s downtown city streets.

You'll find an abundance of trolls/gnomes.

You’ll find an abundance of trolls/gnomes.

The Storypeople workshop exterior pops with vibrant colors and images. I'll tell you more about Storypeople in a future post.

The Storypeople workshop exterior pops with vibrant colors and images. I’ll tell you more about Storypeople in a future post.

Window displays and signs are equally as interesting as the architecture.

Window displays and signs are equally as interesting as the architecture.

A building needn't be ornate to impress. I love the strong simple lines of Cary's Fabrication.

A building needn’t be ornate to impress. I love the strong simple lines of Cary’s Fabrication.

If I had excess discretionary funds, I would have purchased the woodcut art of Lennis Moore sold at Eckheart Gallery.

If I had excess discretionary funds, I would purchase the woodcut art of Lennis Moore sold at Eckheart Gallery.

More great buildings...

More great buildings…

FYI: Check back for more posts from downtown and elsewhere in Decorah, Iowa, including images of the historic hotel where we stayed, a beautiful waterfall, Storypeople, an historic home and a fish hatchery. I promise that by the end of this photographic tour, you will add this community to your list of “must visit” towns.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finally, well into COVID-19, I go to the library August 11, 2020

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’VE PREVIOUSLY POSTED about my deep love of libraries tracing back to my childhood. As a child, I had limited access to books. My small rural Minnesota community had no library. Nor did my elementary school, which sourced books from the county library 20 miles away in Redwood Falls. On occasion, I would be among students selected to board a school bus to travel to that library and return with books temporarily borrowed for our school. I loved those opportunities to browse and choose.

 

The LFL installed outside the community owned Vesta Cafe in July 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Today my hometown of Vesta still does not have a public library. County bookmobile service ended long ago with budget cuts. But, thanks to my efforts and those of locals and the generosity of Little Free Library co-founder Todd Bol, a LFL sits outside the Vesta Cafe with additional materials inside. Bol gifted the mini library to my hometown in July 2012.

 

A LFL in downtown Decorah, Iowa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Fast forward eight years and these mini libraries are seemingly everywhere. And during a global pandemic, especially when public libraries closed for a period (some still with restricted hours), the LFLs proved invaluable to book lovers like me. I found a few good books to read, but still longed to step inside a public library with an abundance of reading materials. That happened three weeks ago.

 

This photograph was taken last September (pre pandemic) outside the Northfield Public Library during a cultural event there.

 

Randy and I headed up to neighboring Northfield on a recent Saturday afternoon to look for and check out items at the library. Unlike Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, the Northfield Public Library reopened months ago (May 26) for regular hours that include evenings and weekends. That makes it accessible to everyone. Masking, social distancing and other protocols are in place and required to protect patrons and staff.

 

The books and magazines I checked out from the Northfield library.

 

I arrived at the NPL with a list of books I wanted. I wasn’t sure computers would be available to access the card catalog. Because I am unfamiliar with the lay-out of the library, I needed help to find some titles and staff generously assisted. I left with a bag full of seven books and two magazines.

 

 

Since then, I’ve been happily reading my stash of Minnesota-authored books. Only one—Love Thy Neighbor, A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America by Ayaz Virji with Alan Eisenstock—was not on my list. I spotted the book on a shelf of library staff picks, this one recommended by Sue. I read the book in a single day. One day. That’s how good this book is and how necessary to read. Especially today when headlines daily reveal instances of hatred, racism and so much more dividing our country. Insensitive, inflammatory, just plain horrible words and actions, including in southern Minnesota.

In summary, Love Thy Neighbor is the story of a medical doctor who relocates his family from a busy eastern urban setting to rural southwestern Minnesota to practice medicine as he desires, with a deeper personal connection to patients. Initially, all goes well and Dr. Virji and his family find themselves settling in, accepted, enjoying their new life in rural Minnesota. But then the November 2016 election happens and things begin to change. And that is the focus of this book—the shift in attitudes toward Muslims, how that negativity affected this small town family doctor and his family, and what he did about it.

I’d encourage you to read this enlightening book that recaps Virji’s struggles and the community talks he gave to help those in his small Minnesota community (and elsewhere) to understand his faith and the challenges he faces in a more toxic national environment.

 

 

Once I finished that book, I moved onto another environment—into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota in A Year in the Wilderness, Bearing Witness in the Boundary Waters by Amy and Dave Freeman. It’s been an enjoyable escape into the remote wild, to a place I’ve only ever visited through others. The Freemans, like Dr. Virji, wrote their book with a purpose. To educate, to enlighten and to protect the BWCAW from sulfide-ore copper mining. Incredible photos enhance this detailed documentation of living for a year in the wild. I’d highly recommend this title also.

 

I especially enjoy reading books by Minnesotans and appreciate the Northfield library tagging these books with Minnesota-shaped art.

 

The remaining books in my library book stash are mysteries/mystery thrillers, my preferred genre. I quickly read Desolation Mountain by one of my favorite Minnesota authors, William Kent Krueger. Interestingly enough, that fictional story in the Cork O’Connor series also references potential mining near the BWCAW.

New-to-me author Chris Norbury’s books, Castle Danger and Straight River, also connect to the northeastern Minnesota wilderness. And southern Minnesota, where the main character returns to the family farm in Straight River. I always enjoy reading books that include familiar places. Norbury lives in Owatonna and references area communities. And those of you who grew up in this region recognize that the book titles are actually an unincorporated community in northeastern Minnesota and a river here in southern Minnesota.

I’m determined to stretch my reading beyond the seed mystery love planted decades ago through Nancy Drew books. To that end, I appreciate when library staff pull and showcase books they recommend. Like Dr. Virji’s book.

And I appreciate libraries. I look forward to the day when Faribault’s library opens again for regular hours. Currently, it’s open by appointment only, for 30-minute Browse-and-Go Visits between 10 am – 5 pm weekdays or for No-Contact Curbside Pickup. Because Randy is gone to work between those hours, he has no opportunity to get books locally. And so we will continue our trips to Northfield.

Now, you may wonder why these two communities within 20 minutes of each other and in the same county differ in library reopening. I expect it has much to do with numbers, usage and demographics as it relates to COVID-19. My county of Rice, according to information posted by Rice County Public Health on August 7, has had 1,020 lab confirmed cases* of COVID since March. That breaks down to 830 cases in Faribault. Northfield has had far fewer at 141. The balance of 49 cases are spread throughout other communities in Rice County.

I can only speculate that numbers factor into local library decisions about operations. But who knows? I am a word person, not a numbers person.

#

FYI: My friend Sue Ready, a book lover and writer who lives in the Minnesota northwoods, is a good source of info about Minnesota-authored books. She reviews books on her Ever Ready blog, Click here. Sue also heads up the Northwoods Art & Book Festival in Hackensack, MN., which brings together Minnesota artists and authors. This year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19.

* The number of COVID-19 cases in Rice County as of Monday, August 10, were 1,038.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts from Minnesota June 1, 2020

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These porous stacked rocks represent the heaviness layered upon my heart. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A HEAVINESS RESTS upon my heart.

I feel unsettled, overwhelmed, sad, heartbroken. As if pain and angst and worry have collectively landed. Upon the people in this place I call home. Minnesota.

Certainly, I am physically removed from the epicenter of unrest in the Twin Cities metro. But many friends and loved ones live there. And the reason for the protests—the death of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police—touches me in a profoundly human way. The senselessness of his death… I understand the outrage, the anger, the desire for justice and change. I don’t understand the looting, the rioting, the destruction, the burning of businesses and government buildings, the threats…

 

The Faribault Police Department building photographed Saturday morning.

 

My community of Faribault has not gone untouched. Protesters gathered outside the police station Friday evening. Peaceful by media accounts, for which I am thankful. Still, it’s unsettling to see concrete and other barriers and a police vehicle protecting the local law enforcement headquarters.

Sunday evening Faribault joined other Minnesota communities in implementing a curfew beginning at 8 pm and continuing until 6 am Monday. The typically busy street past my house grew eerily quiet by 8:30 pm. I awoke several times during the night to silence.

Thankfully this past weekend I had the distraction of grandchildren to focus my attention, to love on, to hold close. I blew bubbles, chalked hearts on the sidewalk, read books, cuddled, played hide-and-seek. And when my eldest daughter, my son-in-law and those two precious grandchildren left at 5:30 pm Sunday with plenty of time to reach home in the north metro before curfew, Randy and I stood in the driveway waving the long Minnesota goodbye.

 

A protected police department, up close, on Saturday morning.

 

Minutes later, the daughter texted, “Better stay home tonight” with a screen shot about curfews in Faribault, Northfield and Dakota County.

Twenty minutes later, she texted, “They closed the freeways at 5 tonight. So we have to go a longer way.” Then the worry kicked in as I prayed for my loved ones to get safely home. We had no idea the interstate closings were moved ahead three hours.

But they found their usual route open and arrived home without delay. And this mother and grandma breathed again, although a heaviness still presses upon my heart.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Who screams for ice cream? November 19, 2018

I’ve never been to Conny’s Creamy Cone, just noticed it recently while enroute to Como Park. The shop, open from March to October, is on the corner of Dale Street and Maryland Avenue in St. Paul. It features 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream and a menu that includes burgers, cheese curds, onion rings and much more. Have you ever been here? Spotting this shop inspired this post.

 

SEASONAL ICE CREAM SHOPS have mostly shuttered here in Minnesota as demand drops with the onset of cold and snow. Or does it? I still eat ice cream from November – March. Straight from a carton in my freezer into a bowl onto a spoon and into my mouth. Yum.

 

The Betty, Cool Mint Flavor Burst ice cream, crème de mint and Oreos flurried together, then topped with whipped cream, and served at The S’Cream in Owatonna, one of my favorite ice cream shops. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

As much as I enjoy ice cream at home, I also enjoy the occasional stop at an ice cream shop once those businesses re-open around April 1, depending. There’s just something about standing outside a walk-up window, scanning the choices and choosing a treat to welcome spring or to cool down on a humid summer day that makes me happy. You know, the kid with an ice cream cone kind of happiness, although I seldom choose a cone. I prefer a shake or something more complex.

 

Lots of dogs waiting in line with their owners at Blast Softserve. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2014.

 

I also prefer homegrown ice cream shops with creative names for both business and offerings to chain anything. Ditto for restaurants. I want to experience a sense of place by dining at original, hometown eateries.

 

One of my favorite area bakeries, Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

I like small town bakeries, too. And craft breweries.

 

Long lines formed to the two serving windows at Blast Softserve, 206 West Rose St., Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2014.

 

None of this should come as a surprise if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile. I delight in exploring small towns, discovering that which defines the character of a community and makes it memorable. It could be a sign, architecture, a person, an event… Or a sweet little ice cream shop.

 

Serving up a cone at The Whippy Dip in Decorah, Iowa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.

 

TELL ME: What’s your favorite homegrown ice cream shop?

© 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