Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My need to know about the Minneapolis tornado May 22, 2011

A shot of my television screen, showing KSTP coverage of the May 22 Minneapolis tornado.

YOU’RE A NEWS JUNKIE,” he says.

I don’t deny it, especially on this stormy Sunday when a tornado has swept through north Minneapolis, killing one and injuring around 20 others, according to the latest news reports.

Much of the afternoon, after hearing of the storms, I parked on the sofa, eyes fixed on the television screen. I also texted my oldest daughter, who lives in south Minneapolis.

When she finally replied to my “Are you in a safe place?” text, she asked, “No, why?”

So I clued her in that a tornado was moving through north Minneapolis. She was at a friend’s house after attending a concert and apparently not near the storm’s path.

But how was I, the concerned mother, to know? To me, Minneapolis is Minneapolis and my daughter could be anywhere.

My husband, the one who called me the news junkie, claims south Minneapolis lies 10 miles from north. I have no idea.

Once I knew that my oldest daughter was OK, my thoughts shifted east to Wisconsin, where the second daughter lives. I really wasn’t too worried, until 4:49 p.m. when she sent a text: “Sirens just went off.”

At that time my husband and I were wrapping up a shopping trip to pick up hardware and gardening supplies and a few groceries before filling up with gas and heading home.

The daughter who lives in Appleton on Wisconsin’s eastern side said the area was under a severe thunderstorm warning and flood watch and that she was at her apartment, but not in the basement.

Uh, huh. “Did I not teach you to go to the basement when the sirens sound?” I thought, but did not text.

Her follow-up message mentioned an unconfirmed funnel cloud in a nearby town.

That text reminded me that I really wanted to watch the 5 p.m. news. And that is when my spouse called me a news junkie.

What does he expect from someone who watched the CBS evening news with Walter Cronkite as a child and wanted to emulate the television news anchor? What does he expect from someone with a mass communications degree, emphasis in news editorial? What does he expect from a former newspaper reporter and now freelance writer and blogger? What does he expect from someone who is nosy and curious by nature?

Yes, I am a news junkie.

But I’m also a mom and a Minnesotan—two equally good reasons for staying informed.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, Wisconsin, I do love thee April 27, 2011

I was expecting downtown Appleton to look like historic Faribault with a pedestrian-friendly two-lane central street. Instead I found big city bustle and a busy four-lane running through the heart of downtown.

My husband and I, along with our son, spent Easter weekend in Appleton, Wisconsin, with our second oldest daughter.

IF YOU READ my Monday blog post, you know about the “Guess that state” contest that offers no prize. The prize is knowing you could (maybe) figure out where I celebrated Easter.

That would be in Wisconsin.

Yes, my husband, son and I spent the Easter weekend just east of Minnesota, in the Dairyland state, the home of the Green Bay Packers.

Specifically, we were in Appleton, the birthplace of Harry Houdini and the current home of my second oldest daughter. It is a 5 – 5 ½- hour drive from Faribault depending on how fast you drive and how many bathroom breaks are taken.

It is interesting how, when you travel in another state, you feel kind of like a foreigner. My husband and I tend to notice the details that distinguish regions. Of course, in Wisconsin, cheese and Packers’ green and gold stand out above all else.

But we also noticed, in the central area of the state where we drove along Wisconsin Highway 21, all of the small-town taverns and unincorporated towns, the buggy tracks and horse poop along the shoulders of the highway, the deer stands, the areas for growing potatoes and cranberries, many “for sale” signs on wooded properties, and lots and lots and lots of deer carcasses in the ditches and along the roadway. Oh, and for one short section, the dead muskrat may have outnumbered the total dead deer count for 100 miles.

Aside from those observations, we saw some interesting signage. For example, in school zones, “when children are present,” the speed limit is 15 mph.

The Willow Creek Cheese Factory Outlet was shut, not closed, according to this sign.

One particular business was not “closed,” it was “shut.”

A parcel of rural real estate, what we would term a “hobby farm” in Minnesota, was dubbed a “Farmette for sale.”

Dead-end streets in Appleton were posted as “No outlet.” It took me awhile to figure out that meant dead-end.

Brat fries were the big weekend fundraiser at Appleton grocery stores. The term “brat fry” was new to us. It means grilling.

We were especially amused by this sign in a field: “Certified weed-free hay.” Now, I wonder what the farmer was smoking when he wrote that sign. Cheddar cheese?

Oh, Wisconsinites, I really do like your state so I hope you take this post in humor, as it’s meant. If you want to cross the border and poke some fun at us Minnesotans, feel free. You’re always welcome here. Just leave the green and gold attire at home.

If you’d like to bring some cheese, do. I love Wisconsin cheese.

A small sampling of the cheeses available at Simon's Specialty Cheese in Little Chute. I'll take you inside this can't miss store in a future post.

NOW FOR THOSE READERS who are wondering where I shot the images in my “Guess that state” post published on Monday, here are the answers:

1.  HELICOPTER:  On the outskirts of Tomah just off I-94

2.  SHIP ROCK:  Near Coloma in Adams County

3.  BRAU HOUSE:  Downtown Appleton

4.  WE SALUTE OUR DAIRY FARMERS:  Simon’s Specialty Cheese Retail Store, Little Chute

5.  NEON ORANGE BUILDING:  A Mexican restaurant (sorry, didn’t get the name) in Wautoma

6.  STONE BUILDING:  The History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton. Magician Harry Houdini claims Appleton as his birthplace.

7.  AMISH FARM:  Near Coloma

8.  BRAT FRY SIGN:  Along an Appleton street

9.  GOLD FIRE HYDRANT:  Appleton

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling