Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Everyone poops & other examples of positivity in Minnesota February 8, 2017

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which I got at a recent family reunion.

My great niece Kiera painted this stone that lies on my office desk as a visual reminder of hope. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

WHEN GLOBAL, NATIONAL, state, local and personal issues leave us feeling sad, overwhelmed and anxious, it’s all too easy to give up hope. But it’s precisely the time we most need to search out the positive and shift our focus away from the negative. It’s the time we most need to appreciate one another.

Beautiful flowers for a graduate.

A gift of flowers is always welcome, special occasion or not. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

So I searched for a few positive actions to share with you from southern Minnesota.

Read a book to a child, just like Officer Goodman. Listen to him read Everyone Poops in a February 3.

Read a book to a child, just like Officer Goodman. Listen to him read Everyone Poops in a February 3.

Without hesitation, I turned first to the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page, an ongoing source of inspirational, thought-provoking and often humorous pieces by Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Today I direct you to Officer Goodman’s bedtime story, Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi, read by Goodman (a puppet voiced by none other than the Chief). Everyone poops. They sure do.

A scoop shovel worked best for removing this snow. I shovel where the snowblower can't go.

If you live in a snowy state like me, consider shoveling or blowing snow from a neighbor’s driveway and sidewalk. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

East of Kenyon, writer Rosie Schluter is doing her part at the local weekly, The Cannon Falls Beacon. She notes “some of the good things” in a Pebble-Ripple column. Kindness, she writes, can cause a ripple effect. She cites a teacher who directed her students to share a kindness on a paper chain. She cites a neighbor who picks up mail for an elderly neighbor. And on her blog, Along the way, Rosie gives more examples. Often it’s the little things that make all the difference.

A perfect Valentine's Day weekend treat.

Consider baking valentine cookies to gift to someone. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

At the blog Ever Ready, my friend Sue is featuring “Pay It Forward” acts of kindness daily during February. She suggests baking and packaging cookies in valentine bags to share with others. She suggests shoveling snow for others. She suggests surprising someone with a handwritten thank you note. All are great ideas that can uplift and bring joy.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

Children can teach us so much about acceptance. This is one of my favorite images, shot several years ago at the International Festival Faribault. Children took turns swinging a stick at a pinata. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Finally, in my community, The Virtues Project Faribault was implemented last year to “inspire the practice of virtues in everyday life.” One aspect of that project is a virtues column published weekly in the local daily newspaper and on the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism website. Local residents write on virtues such as cooperation, tolerance and peacefulness. To read the thoughts and ideas of others in my community has truly been insightful, encouraging and positive.

A handwritten thank you card is always a good way to show your appreciation for someone.

A handwritten thank you note is always a good way to show your appreciation for someone.

TELL ME: How are you choosing and showing positivity?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A bedtime story from the Kenyon Police Department January 9, 2017

my-daddy-snores

 

I’VE WRITTEN HERE before about the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page. It’s a feel-good innovative use of social media. Truly positive and refreshing.

Now there’s one more reason to love this Facebook page. Officer Goodman (a puppet) has joined the KPD family. He makes his debut this evening by reading a children’s picture book, My Daddy Snores written by Nancy Rothstein and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.

This might just be a new bed-time routine for you and your kids. Or you. There’s something comforting about a police officer puppet reading a story as if he’s a schooled children’s librarian. Or simply a police chief who continues to care deeply for others. That would be Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those creepy clowns October 14, 2016

clowns-in-basket-51

 

POKING AROUND MS. MAC’S ANTIQUES in Janesville on a recent Friday afternoon, I came across clowns nestled in a basket. There was nothing frightening about them. They’re just dolls crafted from fabric—some homemade, others manufactured.

But seeing them on display got me thinking about the clown sightings around the country. Last Saturday evening a clown costumed 15-year-old boy was arrested in Crookston, Minnesota, for allegedly scaring people with a butcher knife. All across the U.S., creepy clowns are showing up in communities, creating fear and sometimes chaos.

Even McDonalds has been impacted. The fast food chain is limiting appearances by Ronald McDonald, apparently thinking he best keep a low profile until this whole clown thing blows over.

 

clowns-56-clown-face-close-up

 

In my southern Minnesota community, police are being proactive, issuing this statement last week on the Faribault Police Department Facebook page:

We have now gotten a couple of calls about clowns around town. These are actually young people dressed as scary / crazy / kooky clowns. We have no information to indicate they pose a threat to anyone locally, other than being creepy.

The clown craze is the latest attempt at social media influenced hysteria. There have been several arrests around the country in recent days for making terroristic threats and disrupting public school functions.

If you see, or are concerned about, clowns hanging around, please call us and we will gladly check them out.

 

Clown masks can be scary or fun, depending.

I photographed this clown Halloween mask last October at Antiques of the Midwest in Albert Lea. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

In neighboring Kenyon, noted Police Chief Lee Sjolander isn’t taking things quite as seriously. If you follow his department’s Facebook page, you know that Sjolander thinks, writes and acts outside the box. Here’s the Chief’s take on the clown issue:

I was asked by a parent for my opinion on their young child dressing up as a clown this Halloween. I was told this has been planned for a while and I also know our Kenyon Park & Rec. are planning a clown theme for their Halloween event as well.

Here is my opinion. Dress as a clown if you like, and here is why…

We live in a small town, we know almost everyone, and I’m not one to fall into conspiracy theories, rumormongering, fear, or hoaxes. We have had no “clown sightings” and if we do, we will follow up on them just like we would any other call.

I’m also a huge supporter of common sense. Now a young child dressed as a clown walking with their parents or friends holding a bag of candy is way different than an adult dressed as a clown carrying a weapon and scaring people. That’s like someone dressing as a deer and walking through the woods during deer season… Not the best thought out plan and that can lead to someone getting hurt.

When you say “clown” in Kenyon, most people think of Frank and Bob, who are two of the most loved and respected shriner clowns you could ever meet, and they are local residents.

So there you have it. My opinion. I think I’ll dress as a small town cop again this year, like I do every year…

Please use good judgment, common sense, and if you have any questions or concerns this Halloween, please feel free to contact us.

 

Ron, proprietor at Ms. Mac's Antiques, showed me this clown tucked into a storage room. It's a 1940s balloon machine.

Ron, proprietor at Ms. Mac’s Antiques, showed me this clown tucked into a storage room. It’s a 1940s balloon machine.

 

I don’t understand this whole clown thing. I don’t understand why anyone considers it a good idea to dress as a clown for the purpose of scaring, threatening and/or harming people. There’s nothing funny about this. Nothing at all.

Clowns are supposed to make us smile, make us laugh, bring us joy. They are not meant to terrorize.

Legitimate clowns are, as Chief Sjolander writes, to be loved and respected.

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you think there’s nothing to do in southeastern Minnesota this weekend, then read this August 19, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR in Minnesota when we try to cram as many events in to our days as possible before summer flees, autumn arrives and, dare I say, winter settles in for too many months.

This weekend is no exception here in southeastern Minnesota. Here’s a list of selected activities that may interest you:

I photographed this art on the Steele County Free Fair grandstand in April. This is the theme and art for this year's fair.

I photographed this art on the Steele County Free Fair grandstand in April. This is the theme and art for this year’s fair.

In Owatonna, the Steele County Free Fair, billed as Minnesota’s largest county fair, continues today through Sunday. Last year 307,403 people attended. From a human cannon ball to pig races to more fair food than you can shake a stick at, the SCFF offers something for everyone.

 

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its annual Rose Fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Over in Kenyon, home to social media celebrity Police Chief Lee Sjolander, the community is celebrating its annual Rose Fest Friday through Sunday. The list of activities is extensive but includes such events as a free pool party, a hog roast, parade, kid’s pedal tractor pull, a car show, business expo/farmer’s market and way more. (Click here to see the complete listing.) Be sure to admire the Boulevard of Roses, a center strip along Minnesota State Highway 60 in Kenyon where roses grow.

 

This emblem tops a trophy to be awarded August 19 at the Car Club Show Down.

This emblem tops a trophy to be awarded on Friday evening at the Car Club Show Down. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2016.

UPDATE, 5 PM Friday: Due to the weather, this evening’s Car Cruise Night has been cancelled. However, a car cruise will be held next Friday evening.

On Friday evening, Faribault Main Street hosts the monthly Faribault Downtown Car Cruise Night from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. along Central Avenue. This month’s event features the Car Club Showdown in which car clubs will compete for an oversized handcrafted trophy. Other highlights include the appearance of the University of Minnesota solar vehicle and the Gopher Motorsports UMN Formula SAE car. Representatives of the Museum of Automotive History, a group working toward creating an automotive museum in Rochester, will also be in attendance. Even if you’re not a mega car enthusiast, plan to attend for the sense of community and the fun in an historic downtown. Plus, you can check out downtown restaurants, food trucks and the F-Town Brewery.

 

An Aztec dancer photographed at the 2015 International Festival.

An Aztec dancer photographed at the 2015 International Festival.

Faribault’s diversity will be celebrated from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday during the 11th annual International Festival in Central Park. Cultural booths, ethnic foods and merchandise, cultural entertainment, kids’ activities, henna art, a silent auction, volleyball and pentanques/bocce ball competitions and more will be part of this festival.

 

A sampling of the art showcased in the Somali exhibit at the Paradise. Photo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault.

A sampling of the art showcased in the Somali exhibit at the Paradise. Photo courtesy of Julie M. Fakler, Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault.

Several blocks away at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue, you can also learn more about other cultures at The Somali Museum of Minnesota gallery exhibit running through September 17. The PAC is open from noon until 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. The Minneapolis-based Somali Museum is “dedicated to preserving traditional Somali culture.” Faribault is home to a sizable Somali population.

Plainview book fair poster - Copy

To the south in Plainview, this community celebrates Corn on the Cob Days, an event which started Wednesday and continues through Sunday. Both weekend days are jam-packed with activities ranging from a book fair to an antique tractor pull to a model railroad show to an arts and crafts fair on Saturday to a parade and all-you-can-eat free sweetcorn feed on Sunday. The corn, compliments of local Lakeside Foods, will be served beginning at 11 a.m. until gone.

 

Pulling a barge down the Mississippi River in Winona in September 2015.

Pulling a barge down the Mississippi River in Winona. Image published here for illustration purposes only is not part of the exhibit in St. Peter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2015.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, in St. Peter some 40 miles to the west of Faribault, the Nicollet County Historical Society will host “When Water Dreams: A Celebration” featuring local poets, writers, musicians and dancers. I will be there reading my published poem, “In which Autumn searches for Water.” This outdoor event at the Treaty Site History Center, 1851 North Minnesota Avenue, is in conjunction with the current Smithsonian traveling exhibit “Water/Ways.” That exhibit, focusing on the relationship between people and water, is showing through September 25 at the history center in St. Peter.

TELL ME, are you taking in any local or regional events this weekend wherever you live?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In small town Minnesota: A public show of support for police officers July 30, 2016

Stopped at an intersection in Kenyon, I snapped this quick photo of the Kenyon Police Department office. The yellow sign in the KPD window reads "Every Life Matters."

Stopped at an intersection in Kenyon, I snapped this quick photo of the Kenyon Police Department office, right. The yellow sign in the KPD window reads “Every Life Matters.”

I’VE RAVED HERE SEVERAL TIMES about the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page. Police Chief Lee Sjolander’s become a bit of a celebrity for his honest, humorous and thoughtful writing. He cares. And people like him. Really like him.

A week ago Friday, the good folks of Kenyon, population around 1,800, honored Lee and his officers during an open house at the VFW in this small southeastern Minnesota community. Lines formed. Kind words were spoken and written. And the humble chief thanked his staff.

I love feel-good stories like this. With all the violence, chaos and unrest in today’s world, we need to be reminded of the positive. We need to thank those who care for us, whether personally or on a professional level. Life can be hard sometimes, really hard. But it’s easier when we are kind to one another, when we support and encourage. And express our gratitude.

This Sunday, July 31, my community of Faribault will thank local law enforcement and first responders during a candlelight vigil ceremony at 9:15 p.m. at the Rice County Courthouse.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Every life matters to a social media savvy small town Minnesota police chief July 13, 2016

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

HOOLIGAN BY DEFINITION means violent young troublemaker.

And although Lee Sjolander is officially a hooligan, as in the percussionist for the Goodhue County rock and country variety band The Local Hooligans, he’s not by any standards a troublemaker. That’s his part-time after hours band gig title.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

Downtown Kenyon, Minnesota, during the 2014 Rose Fest, always held on the third weekend in August. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Full-time, Sjolander serves as the police chief of Kenyon, a small southeastern Minnesota community of about 1,800.

But he’s more than your average small town police officer. He’s also a social media celebrity with a world-wide Facebook following that numbers in the thousands. He recently returned from an invitation only 21st Century Policing conference at the White House. And he’s appeared on a Twin Cities television station and has been referenced by Minnesota Public Radio.

Yet, despite all of the notoriety, Sjolander keeps doing what he does best—caring about the good folks and animals (yes, he picks up strays) of Kenyon and writing about his work, his community, social issues and even the personal struggles he faces.

Sjolander is refreshingly positive. If there’s a problem or need in his community, he seeks out solutions. He helps families find housing, pays for groceries, distributes donated monies to locals who are going through tough times and more. In summary, he cares.

He sports a sprawling tattoo on his upper right arm inked with the words: Every Life Matters. Those same three words are stitched onto his bullet proof vest.

Sjolander has an open book, down-home personal writing style infused with compassion and humor that resonates with the masses. If you aren’t following the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page, I’d encourage you to do so. You will be a better person for having read the chief’s words.

And if you’re interested in meeting the chief and his officers, attend a Friday, July 22, open house starting at 4 p.m. at the Kenyon VFW. It is an opportunity, say organizers, to thank and recognize the police department for its work.

That’s how things roll in small town Kenyon under the policing of Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Kenyon: How a small town police chief connects via Facebook December 3, 2015

Kenyon's Boulevard of Roses cuts through Minnesota Highway 60.

Kenyon’s Boulevard of Roses cuts through Minnesota Highway 60. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ABOUT 15 MILES TO THE EAST of Faribault lies the town of Kenyon. Other than roses planted along the boulevard of Minnesota State Highway 60, Kenyon appears your typical southern Minnesota farming community. Hardware store. VFW. Restaurants. Grocery store. Municipal swimming pool. Police station.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its annual August Rose Fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But look a little closer, online closer, and you discover that things operate a little differently in Kenyon. Specifically in the police department. Police Chief Lee Sjolander, according to a recent story in the Kenyon Leader, “highlights the positive, human side of law enforcement with Facebook.”

And that he does, so I confirmed after checking out the Kenyon (MN) Police Department Facebook page penned by the Chief. With introspective, encouraging and uplifting words, often mixed with humor, this policeman shows care and compassion for those in his community of around 1,800.

Don’t just take my word for it. Read the Chief’s thoughts on thankfulness, safe driving, the challenges of his job and more. Read his encouraging words to a commenter who feels like an outcast. Read how his department is helping those in need at its annual Garage of Goodness, a give-away event set for noon to 4:30 p.m. December 5.

View the photos and read the stories in the Chief’s “My hands, my story” series.

Laugh at the postings in his “Life with my teenage daughter” series.

Cats roam the farm and kids chase after them.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only (not photographed in Kenyon).

See how he cares for wandering dogs and cats in Kenyon.

His posts get hundreds of likes.

In a day when law enforcement officers are less and less appreciated, it’s refreshing to see the support given to the Kenyon Police Department, to read the words of a police chief who cares deeply and passionately for those he serves.

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Check back on Friday to read another story that originates in Kenyon.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling