Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

More than a snowman, Faribo Frosty brings smiles, joy January 15, 2020

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Randy blowing snow from our driveway during a previous winter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

AS I LOOK OUTSIDE my office window, I see snow and grey skies. And front steps which await shoveling by me, because I’m the clean-up half of Team Helbling Snow Removal. Randy operates the aged, mammoth snowblower. I use an assortment of shovels depending on moisture content and snow depth.

 

Grandpa and Izzy build their own Frosty in our backyard in December 2018. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A time existed when I loved snow, when I built snow forts and snowmen, packed snowballs, raced across snow mountains, went sliding, made snow angels. Those are but memories although, with grandchildren, I am regaining an appreciation for the fun aspect of snow. On occasion, a snow person now pops up in our yard.

 

Faribo Frosty photographed in the Hoisington family’s front yard in December. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

Up close with Faribo Frosty in December 2019. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Gracing the Hoisingtons’ yard at the corner of Third Avenue Northwest and First Street Northwest in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

But in one Faribault yard, a snowman has established permanent winter residency. He is Faribo Frosty, a towering—as in more than 20-feet tall—and rotund snowman standing at 18 Third Avenue Northwest. This is home to Andy and Debbie Hoisington who, for the past 10-plus years, have gifted my community with this now local icon of winter.

 

Andy and his son Jake work on Faribo Frosty. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

I’ve observed Andy and his son working on Frosty, climbing a ladder, packing snow. Andy sources ice from the local ice arena to keep Frosty at a healthy, tip top lovable shape.

 

My granddaughter hugging Faribo Frosty. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2018.

 

And folks of all ages love Frosty. There’s simply something about an over-sized grinning snowman with a bright red scarf and mittens that makes me happy. Numerous times in recent years when I’ve stopped to see Frosty, I’ve observed the joy Faribo Frosty brings. My own granddaughter last winter stretched her arms wide to hug Frosty. Moments like that make me forget about the cold and shoveling snow.

 

Faribo Frosty draws lots of appreciative fans. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2018.

 

And moments like this remind me of the simple joys in life, if we but pause to embrace them.

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Thank you, Hoisington family, for creating Frosty, for your winter gift to this community and beyond.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Faribo Frosty from a metro media source. His fame is spreading. Also click here to read my past posts about Faribo Frosty.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cheers to J. Ryan Stradal, now among my favorite Minnesota-raised writers January 14, 2020

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Pulling The Lager Queen of Minnesota from the Lucky Day bookshelves at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault proved my lucky day. I’m always up for discovering a new-to-me Minnesota author like J. Ryan Stradal.

Yes, I admit a partiality for Minnesota writers and/or books with a strong Minnesota bend. The Lager Queen is both, although native-born and raised Stradal now lives in Los Angeles. I’ll forgive him for moving to the West Coast because I love his bestselling book that much.

You know a book is good when you don’t want to put it down, when all you want to do is keep reading, despite life’s obligations. I finished the book in days, not a single day, only because, well, I can’t realistically devote an entire day to reading.

As the cover art and title suggest, this is a book about beer. But not just beer. The Lager Queen is also a book about strong women, generations of women in one family who overcome challenges and tragedy. Stradal creates strong characters who grow and evolve and stretch themselves.

This is a story, too, about how generations interconnect, about relationships broken and built, about decisions that ripple their impact.

This is a story, too, of place, of Minnesota. There’s a familiarity in setting, both of real places and fictionalized locations.

As a fan of craft beer, I appreciated learning more about the business through Stradal’s writing. And, yes, he tapped into the knowledge of real craft brewers in Minnesota and beyond. I almost felt like I should be drinking a Minnesota-made craft beer while reading The Lager Queen of Minnesota.

Cheers to a Minnesota-rooted author whom I hope will continue to write similar books. Because I’m a fan. Even if I prefer IPAs to lagers.

FYI: Stradal is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, Kitchens of the Great Midwest.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Faribault: Challenged to talk about domestic violence, to end the silence January 13, 2020

A snippet of a domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, several years ago.

 

STATISTICS IMPRESS. But stories impress more. And what we do after we hear those numbers and those stories matters. Profoundly.

Take a story shared by Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen on Friday evening during a meeting on domestic violence. Sponsored by HOPE Center, the event aimed to get men in the community talking, caring about and speaking up on the issue. I was among the women, outnumbered by men, in the audience.

In 2001, before he joined the Faribault force, Bohlen was called to the scene of a murder. A “domestic,” in which a 4-year-old boy was murdered by his mother’s boyfriend. No one called the police when they heard the boy screaming. Previously or on the day of the murder. Every adult failed that 4-year-old, the chief said. The child’s horrific death profoundly affected Bohlen.

“We (police department) never try to fail a kid or a family,” he said, also praising HOPE Center, its Blueprint for Safety plan (a collaborative county-wide effort to address domestic violence) and local social workers. He praised, too, those gathered at South Central College for Friday’s event. “It’s the right thing to do, to get involved.”

 

A plaque honors Barb Larson, Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism employee, who was shot to death by her ex-husband in the tourism office on December 23, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As I listened to the chief, to HOPE Executive Director Erica Staab-Absher, Prosecuting Attorney and HOPE Board Chair Wendy Murphy, guest speaker Scott Miller of Duluth’s Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs and audience members, I considered that we likely each brought stories of domestic abuse to the room. I expect that every one of you reading this post has, in some way, been affected by domestic violence. Directly or indirectly. For example, in December 2016, two high profile murder-suicides within weeks rocked Faribault, forever changing my southern Minnesota community. We are much more aware. People are talking. Men (and women) of Courage.

We can take our experiences and hold them or we can, as HOPE Director Staab-Absher encouraged, start having those difficult conversations to end the shame and silence of domestic violence, to show compassion to survivors and those who love them, and to hold abusers accountable. She challenged attendees to begin thinking of ways they can accomplish that.

 

Information from a previous meeting on domestic violence in my community.

 

Miller, himself a childhood victim of abuse and bullying, works in Duluth with men who batter. To end the silence. To make a difference. He offered insights on abusers, saying they see themselves as better than women—controlling a woman’s space and winning. I found that word choice, “winning,” especially unsettling. Miller also explained that an abusive personality uses whatever his victim values (ie. car, faith, family) as leverage to punish or gain submission.

In his work with abusers, Miller strives to listen, not to tell. To hear the men’s stories. To encourage these men to think about emotions, to express feelings, to work on changing.

 

Among the inspirational words honoring Barb Larson in a memorial mosaic at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Office. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As I listened to Miller and the others, I experienced a mix of emotions. Hope. Despair. Sadness. Empowerment. Anger.

In the past five years, Faribault police have responded to 630 verbal and physical domestic violence calls and 190 sexual assault calls, Police Chief Bohlen said, adding that the actual number of cases (because so many go unreported) can be conservatively doubled.

Attorney Murphy stated that getting a conviction in Rice County is “extremely hard.” I wanted to stand up and ask, “Why?” I had too many questions.
But I held my questions, choosing instead to simply listen. To a pastor, among four in attendance. He shared about a woman who called him. A woman hiding in her room, dresser shoved against the door, as her partner rushed up the stairs in pursuit of her. The pastor called the police. She was angry. At him. The pastor. He recognized the seriousness of the situation, of the need to call police to protect this woman. “Don’t call me. Call the police,” he told those attending Friday’s gathering.

Guest speaker Miller earlier brought clergy into the conversation, terming them, and not the police, as the 911 for many people. Abusers, he said, may claim to “find Jesus in prison,” then manipulate unknowing pastors. I felt gratitude in that moment for Miller bringing that component into the conversation and for the four pastors in attendance, men of faith learning and standing up and refusing to remain silent about domestic violence.

 

Photographed on the inside of a women’s bathroom stall at Lark Toys in Kellogg five years ago, this powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

It takes all of us. Men. Women. Communities. Individually and collectively. Personally and professionally. To think and talk about ways to end domestic violence and sexual assault. To end the silence. To act. To make a difference.

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help from a place like HOPE Center. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. You deserve to live a life free of abuse and violence. If you know someone in an abusive relationship, seek the advice of advocates to learn how you can best support and help victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sometimes you just have to walk away… January 9, 2020

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An especially bright spot in the heart of downtown Faribault is the Second Street Garden, a pocket garden with positive messages like this one. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo August 2019.

 

BY NATURE, I AM a quiet observer. Not introverted. But a watcher, a listener, the person who mostly sits back, especially in a room filled with strong personalities.

But that doesn’t mean I embrace overpowering people, especially those who talk over and at others. That type of self-centered behavior bothers me, bothers being a tempered word choice. Lack of empathy, understanding and compassion hurt personal relationships, communities, countries. I see too many people driven by their goals, their agendas, their misinformed/uninformed assessments of others and of situations. Their “I’m right” and “I don’t care if I’m hurting you” perspectives.

How do you fix that on a personal level? The answer: We usually can’t. I’ve learned that unless someone is willing to engage in civil dialogue, it’s probably a waste of time to even have a discussion. I can only control how I react. And sometimes the best way to react is simply to walk away, to let it go, to extract myself from those who are toxic, who lack empathy and the ability to think beyond themselves.

The Minnesota Nice part of me screams, “That’s not very nice!” But the reality is that we all deserve respect. To be heard and understood and loved. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Color my winter world January 8, 2020

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The nearly colorless landscape of southwestern Minnesota in late December.

 

MY EYES, MY SPIRIT, my very being craves color this time of year.

I need pops of color to break the white monotony of a Minnesota winter landscape. Without color, the bleakness of setting presses down the spirit. Not that winter can’t be beautiful. It’s just that I prefer a world beyond black and white.

So when I’m out and about, I find myself drawn to hues that flash. Like red, especially red. Set against a backdrop of white, red appears even bolder, stronger.

 

Parked in a Morristown, Minnesota, driveway.

 

A red pick-up truck.

 

Red barns, like this one in southwestern Minnesota, really stand out in a winterscape.

 

A red barn, tractor, outbuildings.

 

Right next to the I-90 in the Wisconsin Dells, a colorful waterslide breaks the grey of a foggy late December morning.

 

Even, while driving through the Wisconsin Dells recently, red spiraling on an outdoor waterslide.

 

Taillights are welcome along a foggy I-90 in Wisconsin.

 

And, on that same trip, the welcome red of taillights beaconing through thick fog pressed upon Interstate 90.

During a Midwest winter, red equals the visual equivalent of happiness.

TELL ME: Do you involuntarily gravitate toward color this time of year? If yes, I’d like to hear more.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What I’m drawn to photograph in rural Minnesota January 7, 2020

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One of my favorite Minnesota barns is this especially well-maintained one along a back county road west of New Ulm.

 

I FIND MYSELF, all too often in my on-the-road rural photography, focusing primarily on barns. My eyes gravitate toward these agricultural icons that I fear will vanish within the next 50 years, fallen to abandonment and/or replaced by nondescript cookie cutter metal polesheds. That saddens me. But it is the reality of the times, of the decline of the family farm.

 

Massive polesheds have replaced traditional barns on some farms, including this one along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota.

 

I will continue to photograph these beloved landmarks, symbols of a bygone era of farming. Barns hold personal value to me as a farmer’s daughter. I grew up working in the barn—feeding cows, bedding straw, shoveling manure, lugging pails of still warm milk from cow to bulk tank and much more.

 

An abandoned farmhouse near Morristown, Minnesota.

 

A tiny, colorful house in Morristown, Minnesota.

 

Just blocks away in Morristown, newer homes cluster in a housing development. A tornado hit this area in 2018, destroying and heavily damaging houses.

 

While documenting these centers of farm life, I’ve mostly neglected to photograph the homes of rural Minnesota. They vary from abandoned houses with broken windows to modern-day structures.

 

In southwestern Minnesota, an aged farmhouse so familiar to me.

 

It is the decades-old farmhouses that appeal to me most, no matter their conditions. My childhood home until my early teens was a cramped three-bedroom 1 ½-story house without a bathroom. A hulking oil burning stove in the living room heated the structure. A trap door in the kitchen opened to stairs leading to a dark dirt-floored cellar where salamanders lurked. Mom stashed the bounty of her garden in fruit jars lining plank shelves.

 

A southwestern Minnesota farmhouse.

 

I am thankful to have grown up in a minimalist house, in a poor farm family. We may have been poor materialistically. But our family was rich in love. I never realized until I became an adult that I was raised in near poverty. Because of that background, I’ve never needed the most, the best, the newest.

 

In Kenyon, Minnesota, a brilliant turquoise makes this house stand out.

 

On recent road trips, I intentionally aimed my camera lens at houses. Both in small towns and in the countryside. These are not just houses. They are homes. Or memories of homes. Worthy of preserving with my camera as part of rural Minnesota history.

 

A home in the small town of Morristown, Minnesota.

 

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on a Monday morning in Minnesota January 6, 2020

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So many winter days lately here in Minnesota have been dominated by cloud-filled grey skies, this scene along Interstate 90 in far southeastern Minnesota.

 

SUNSHINE RADIATES WARMTH, splashing light into my office on this Monday morning. Such a blessing after too many days of grey skies. Winter in Minnesota can challenge the spirit with endless cold and dreariness. But this morning hope rises in the light.

That all sounds so optimistic and poetic. And I wish I fully believed those words, although I am trying to be more positive. Yet, it’s difficult when the current global situation prompts concern about the stability and safety of our world, our country, our state, our communities.

My thoughts are all over the place today. Negative. Positive.

 

Another winter scene along Interstate 90 in rural southeastern Minnesota. I noticed a thin break in the pressing cloud line.

 

This morning, after finishing my devotions, I picked up the gratitude journal gifted to me several days ago by a friend. I reread what I’d written. Gratefulness for a lengthy hand-penned letter from a loving friend who also gifted Randy and me with a gift certificate to a favorite Faribault restaurant. Gratitude for Randy receiving a gift certificate for a pie from the Trinity Pie Makers after entering a “name that Christmas hymn” contest at our church. Gratitude for our grandson turning one. Gratitude for the annual holiday dinner out at a new Northfield restaurant compliments of Randy’s employer.

Those are all really good things and I am grateful for each.

They balance the ongoing challenges of life. My mom in the process of dying. Other family members dealing with major health issues complicated by limited and costly health insurance that includes unaffordable premiums and high deductibles and insurers thinking they can dictate what care/prescriptions an insured should get. I’ve written previously about our own financial struggles with health insurance and I’m hearing more and more about just how bad the situation is for a lot of people.

Yesterday, as I started reading the stack of magazines and books I picked up from the local library (I am so grateful for libraries), I came across two articles mentioning health insurance in the December 2019 issue of The Writer magazine. In both stories, the freelance writers mentioned the high cost of health insurance and how fortunate they are to have coverage through their spouses. Two stories out of 11 referencing health insurance seems significant in a 48-page magazine.

 

Blue sky breaks through the bank of clouds along a rural county road between Faribault and Morristown last week.

 

Something needs to change. But change seems slow in coming. First there needs to be a recognition among politicians that a real problem exists with the current health insurance system.

I could write lots more on the topic. But, as I look outside my office window at the sunshine, as I press keyboard letters that write words upon a screen, I feel grateful that I can create. I have that freedom. I live in a wonderful community, which though imperfect, is a pretty darned sweet place to live. Today, sunshine breaks through the clouds.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling