Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Christmas trees past December 23, 2013

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Christmas tree lot in Faribault

FOR MANY A HOLIDAY SEASON, this unpretentious Christmas tree lot has operated at the intersection of busy Second Avenue Northwest and Minnesota Highway 3 near the edge of Faribault.

I’ve never shopped for a tree here. But, one of these holiday seasons, instead of passing by, I need to stop and ask a few questions, take a few photos, learn the history of this place and perhaps pick out a tree.

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo.  That's me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

The lot reminds me of childhood Christmases, when my family would choose a short-in-stature, short-needled Christmas tree at the local grocery store.

To this day, I prefer a Charlie Brown type tree to one that’s tall, full and perfectly-branched.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring art inside the Weitz Center for Creativity at Carleton College December 5, 2013

MY EXPOSURE TO PROFESSIONAL ART as a youth could be categorized as minimal. There were no visits to art galleries, no attending theatrical performances, no concerts outside of school walls.

Yet, I did not feel deprived, for art surrounded me in blazing prairie sunsets, an inky sky dotted with an infinity of stars, road ditches graced with wild roses, tall grass bending in the wind, the symphony of a howling blizzard, the crunch of boots on hard-packed snow, the orchestra of pulsating milking machines and munching cows and the radio voices of ‘CCO.

To this day, I credit my rural southwestern Minnesota upbringing for shaping me as a writer and photographer. There, on the stark prairie, within the confines of a close and loving family living off the land, I learned to appreciate the details in the landscape and life itself.

Today, I no longer live on my beloved prairie. And I have immediate access to the arts within my own community of Faribault and nearby. You won’t find me, except on rare occasions, aiming for the Twin Cities to view art. I am not a city girl.

The Weitz Center for Creativity at Third and College Streets in Northfield, Minnesota.

The Weitz Center for Creativity at Third and College Streets in Northfield, Minnesota.

In late October, I discovered Weitz Center for Creativity, “a center for creativity and collaboration in the liberal arts,” on the campus of Carleton College in neighboring Northfield. The center is housed in the historic former and repurposed Northfield high school and middle school and in 30,000 additional square feet of new construction.

Near the entrance to the Weitz Center Commons area.

Near the entrance to the Weitz Center Commons area. (Photographed in October.)

The complex offers such creative spaces as a theater, dance studios, a technology resource center (the Gage/Bauer IdeaLab), a teaching museum, galleries and more.

From Jessica Rath's "take me to the apple breeder" exhibit, a porcelain apple and an apple tree photograph.

From Jessica Rath’s “take me to the apple breeder” exhibit, a porcelain apple and an apple tree photograph.

The Perlman Teaching Museum and galleries there drew me to view “Single Species Translations,” which included Jessica Rath’s “take me to the apple breeder” and Laura Cooper’s “Opuntia,” and “The Intersection Between Book, Film, and Visual Narrative.” The exhibits have since closed. But “Lifeloggers: Chronicling the Everyday,” opens January 17 and runs through March 12, 2014. The exhibit will feature the works of a dozen artists.

And here’s the really sweet deal. Admission to the Perlman Teaching Museum (and galleries) is free. Hours are 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday – Wednesday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Note that the museum is open only during Carleton’s academic term, although closed during breaks and during the summer.

Connecting indoors and out in a section of the Commons.

Connecting indoors and out in a section of the Commons.

My first impression of the Weitz Center for Creativity was one of visual appreciation for the modern, clean lines and minimalistic setting. I love the walls of windows, the pots of pines and palms and other plants interspersed among clusters of tables and chairs in a space that visually connects to the outdoors.

Cozy spots for conversation in the Commons.

Cozy spots for conversation in the Commons.

I appreciate, too, the cozy settings of living room furniture that invite conversation and create a sense of intimacy in the spacious, open Commons area.

A snippet of Jessica Rath's exhibit shows porcelain apple sculptures and photos of apple trees in the Braucher Gallery.

A snippet of Jessica Rath’s exhibit shows porcelain apple sculptures and photos of apple trees in the Braucher Gallery.

Entering the gallery, I noted the gleaming starkness of the space, an excellent backdrop to showcase exhibits. I know this is the gallery norm. But, since I did not grow up visiting galleries, I am still struck each time by this visual impact of a clean slate. Light and shadows and mood play upon art here.

A student studies a portion of "The Intersection Between Book, Film, and Visual Narrative" in the Kaemmer Family Gallery.

A student studies a portion of “The Intersection Between Book, Film, and Visual Narrative” in the Kaemmer Family Gallery.

I won’t pretend to understand and enjoy every exhibit I view. We each bring our personalities and experiences and tastes to a gallery and those influence our reactions.

I love the simplicity of the apples positioned on the table in Rath's exhibit and how the shadows angle onto the tabletop.

I love the simplicity of the apples positioned on the table in Rath’s exhibit and how the shadows play upon the tabletop.

More tabletop art, to be picked up and paged through by gallery visitors.

More tabletop art, to be picked up and paged through by gallery visitors.

More print to appreciate.

Additional print and creativity to appreciate.

A wall-size artistic interpretation of Opuntia by Laura Cooper.

A wall-size artistic interpretation of Opuntia by Laura Cooper.

While I could relate to apples and books, I couldn’t connect to the exhibit on Opuntia, a type of cactus. Cacti, except for a few grown as houseplants, are mostly foreign to me.

This signage greets visitors upon entering the Weitz Center for Creativity.

Just inside the doors of the Weitz Center for Creativity.

Yet, I learned. And that, too, is part of the arts experience.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’ve been Freshly Pressed again November 30, 2013

“I HOPE YOUR BLOG is ready to welcome some new readers…”

That's my post, labeled "Barn Memories," featured today on Freshly Pressed.

That’s my post, labeled “Barn Memories,” featured today on Freshly Pressed.

With those words, I recently learned that my November 25 blog post, “An essay of barn photos & memories,” earned Freshly Pressed status on WordPress.com. (Click here to read that post.)

In the WordPress blogging world, that’s akin to winning an Emmy or an Oscar or something similar, although you could perhaps argue that I am exaggerating. I think not, though, given the half a million plus WordPress bloggers world-wide. (Click here to reach the Freshly Pressed page on WordPress.)

That said, I’d like to thank you, my readers, for your faithful following of Minnesota Prairie Roots. Just over 600 of you now follow my blog via subscription and I am grateful for each of you.

I’d also like to thank my husband, who is very much a part of this blogging journey via his support and company.

The Freshly Pressed tweet about my barn post.

The Freshly Pressed tweet about my barn post.

And, finally, I’d like to thank the editors at WordPress who daily hand-pick eight posts to feature on Freshly Pressed. My barn post is featured today on Freshly Pressed.

Here’s what WordPress editor Ben Huberman wrote in an email:

You struck such a delicate and moving balance in this piece between letting the photos you took speak for themselves, and sharing with your readers the memories and emotions they invoke in you. It’s a lovely, well-executed post that deserves a wider audience.

How sweet is that to get an editor’s comment on your work? It’s invaluable and uplifting and reaffirming.

An old-fashioned farm along Wisconsin Highway 21.

An old-fashioned farm along Wisconsin Highway 21. This is one of the photos published in my winning post.

About the barn photos featured in my winning post… I shot all of them in mid-October while traveling through northeastern Wisconsin. And by traveling, I mean traveling. All six images were photographed from the passenger side of our family van while traveling down the highway at 55 mph. I had one, maybe two, opportunities to capture each photo I showcased. There was no stopping to compose a frame. Rather, I set my camera at a fast shutter speed, anticipated and clicked. That’s it. Either I got the photo or I didn’t. Clean windows help, too. Ask my husband about bottles of window cleaner and paper towels.

The words I paired with the six barn photos came from my heart, from my memories of laboring in my childhood dairy barn on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. Images and smells and textures and sound flowed from my memory onto the keyboard in a piece rich in imagery, heartfelt in emotions.

That combination of from-the-heart writing paired with just the right photos made this post stand out among the hundreds of thousands of others published on WordPress, apparently. For more information on how Freshly Pressed posts are selected, click here.

The homepage of WordPress.com, as photographed Thursday morning. My "In praise of preserving country churches" blog post is on the lower right.

The homepage of WordPress.com, as photographed in July 2010. My “In praise of preserving country churches” blog post is on the lower right. The story focuses on Moland Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been featured on Freshly Pressed. My July 7, 2010, post, “In praise of preserving country churches,” (click here to read) was Freshly Pressed as was my June 11, 2012, post, “Testing the track during a Soap Box Derby trial run in Faribault” (click here to read).

A screen shot of the Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Freshly Pressed on the WordPress homepage. My post is featured in the bottom center. I've been Freshly Pressed twice since I began blogging, meaning my posts were chosen, for a single day, as among the top 10 WordPress posts in the world.

A screen shot of the Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Freshly Pressed on the WordPress homepage. My post is featured in the bottom center.

To earn Freshly Pressed status three times rates as rewarding for a blogger like me, who is undeniably passionate about writing and photography. Thank you for joining me on this blogging journey.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An essay of barn photos & memories November 25, 2013

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Near Poy Sippi, Wisconsin.

Near Poy Sippi, Wisconsin.

MY FONDNESS FOR BARNS, for photographing them, never wanes.

Along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

Along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

When I fit my eye to the viewfinder, swing my camera lens toward a barn and click, it’s as if I’m clicking my heels together and flying into my past.

Also along Wisconsin Highway 21.

Also along Wisconsin Highway 21.

I am trudging down the barn aisle, leaning into the wheelbarrow heaped with ground corn. I am scooping that feed by the shovelful to top silage pitched from the silo and parceled before the Holsteins’ empty stanchions.

Near Poy Sippi, Wisconsin.

Near Poy Sippi, Wisconsin.

Later, as milk pulsates into milking machines and Dad has poured the milk into a tall thin pail, I am lugging the precious liquid to the milkhouse, handle biting into my chore-gloved hand.

Another farm near Poy Sippi.

Another farm near Poy Sippi.

Memories come into focus—the golden booming radio voices from ‘CCO, the slap of a cow’s tail, hot urine splattering into gutters, cats swarming around a battered hubcap, the stench of manure, taut twine snapped with my yellow jackknife and prickly alfalfa itching my exposed wrists.

An old-fashioned farm along Wisconsin Highway 21.

An old-fashioned farm along Wisconsin Highway 21.

But, mostly, I see my farmer dad in those barns I photograph.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Giving bikes to kids November 13, 2013

Me, riding Sky Blue at age 10 on the farm where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota.

Me, riding Sky Blue at age 10 on the Redwood County farm where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota. Photo taken in 1966.

LOOKING BACK ON MY CHILDHOOD, I cannot imagine life without a bicycle. My bike was my imaginary horse, my daredevil stunt car launched off makeshift ramps, my mode of transportation down county and township roads.

If not for my maternal grandfather, though, I never would have owned a bike. My parents could not afford bikes for their kids. So Grandpa would scavenge the local dump for bikes he could repair, repaint and deliver to me and my five siblings.

It mattered not that my bike, which I named Sky Blue, wasn’t new. I owned a bike. I was a happy kid.

That childhood memory bubbled to the surface Monday morning when Dee Bjork at The Crafty Maven in downtown Faribault handed me a flier about the Free Bikes 4 Kidz program. I wanted, no, needed, to learn more about this partnered local give-away by So How Are the Children and Allina Health (presenting sponsor for the non-profit Free Bikes 4 Kidz). So I phoned SHAC Director Carolyn Treadway.

The give-away “targets kids whose families couldn’t otherwise afford bikes,” says Treadway. Kids just like me and my siblings decades ago.

As Treadway and I concur, a child’s desire to own a bike is universal, transcending time.

On December 7, Treadway expects SHAC and Allina to give away 65 – 75 bikes to pre-registered Faribault youth. She’s actively searched for kids—handing out fliers to teachers, drawing on her connections through SHAC and dropping in at places like St. Vincent de Paul, a childcare center and a laundromat to find families needing bikes. She’s currently placing names on a waiting list.

Kids from Northfield and Steele County will also get new or gently-used and refurbished bikes at the Faribault Middle School pick-up site. All told, Treadway anticipates 150-175 bicycles to be distributed along with new bike helmets, compliments of Allina Health.

Among those expected to show up are an east-side Faribault woman who will claim seven bikes, Treadway says. The bicycles are for her neighbor children whose father, in a state of inebriation, destroyed their bikes. The woman will store the bikes in her garage until spring.

Treadway enthuses about such a neighborly caring spirit and about the volunteers who repair the used bikes and assist with the give-away. She’s also grateful for those who donate bikes, some of which were collected at the Faribault Bike Rodeo in October. Allina Health coordinates numerous collections of bikes to be distributed in Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

Another local recipient is a Faribault father who signed his 12-year-old and 14-year-old up for Free Bikes 4 Kidz. When the dad asked if he could also get a bike for his 18-year-old, Treadway assured him he could. The older teen attends the Faribault Area Learning Center and a bike will enable him to stay in school because he will now have a way to get there.

Stories like that truly show the humanity of this program aimed at getting bikes to kids so they will have, as Treadway says, “access to safe and healthy physical activity.” Or, in the case of the 18-year-old, access to education.

The program also builds connections and a sense of community care.

Yet, the bare bones basics benefit of Free Bikes 4 Kidz is to get bikes into the hands of children who otherwise would not have a bike of their own. The program has grown significantly in Faribault, where only a dozen free bikes were distributed two years ago.

“Owning a bike,” Treadway says, “is very near and dear to a child’s heart.”

It is the universal childhood desire which transcends time. Just ask me. I’ve never forgotten Sky Blue or the grandpa who scavenged the dump so I could have a bike.

 A bike pulled from my garage.

A bike pulled from my garage and photographed. I then edited the image to illustrate this story.

FYI: To learn more about the non-profit Free Bikes for Kidz, click here.

For more information on Allina Health’s partnership in the program, click here.

To learn more about So How Are the Children, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Owatonna: Celebrating the old-fashioned shoe store September 10, 2013

I CAN STILL FEEL the taut cotton string snugged around the shoebox, knotted and clamping the lid in place, the smell of polish and leather locked inside.

I can taste, too, the sugary sweetness of the sucker tied to the shoebox, a treat for any child getting a new pair of shoes.

A back-to-school display at Owatonna Shoe.

A back-to-school display at Owatonna Shoe.

Leather and lollipops are as much a part of my childhood back-to-school memories as a Big Chief tablet and boxes of sharp-tipped Crayola crayons and lace-edged anklets.

They'll measure your feet at Owatonna Shoe.

They’ll measure your feet at Owatonna Shoe.

Back in the day, there were stores that sold just shoes or retailers like Montgomery Wards which featured sizable shoe departments with full customer service. Employees measured your feet then disappeared behind a cloth-covered doorway only to return with stacked boxes of shoes.

A clerk retrieves a box of shoes for a customer.

A clerk carries a box of shoes for a customer.

I remember feeling like a princess of sorts as the clerk slipped a shoe onto my foot, sometimes yanking shoelace ends before tying a tight bow. I would wiggle my toes upon command as the salesman bent low, pressing on the tip of the shoe to assure the right fit.

Nostalgia today draws me to places like Burkhartzmeyer Shoes in Faribault, a third-generation family-owned business. It’s my favorite shoe store as much for the service and quality of shoes as for the people who work there.

Owatonna Shoe is located to another long-time local business, St. Clair's for Men in the heart of downtown Owatonna.

Owatonna Shoe is located next to another long-time business, St. Clair’s for Men, in the heart of downtown Owatonna.

Recently I checked out another area family-owned shoe store, Owatonna Shoe at 121 N. Cedar Avenue in Owatonna, 15 miles to the south of my community. I didn’t need shoes. Rather I simply wanted to poke around, to see for myself why others have raved about this place.

I found the look of an old-fashioned shoe store in the basment, complete with vintage chairs.

I found the look of an old-fashioned shoe store in the basement, complete with what appear to be vintage chairs.

I found what I expected—a down-home friendly place with a welcoming atmosphere and great customer service.

On display: several items of Buster Brown memorabilia.

On display: Buster Brown memorabilia.

As a bonus, I also discovered bits of the past in a collection of Buster Brown collectibles…

Colorful vintage chairs in the basement.

Colorful vintage chairs and shoes in the basement.

…vintage chairs…

Tom Brick purchased this mechanical horse for Owatonna Shoe in 2010. It's original history in Owatonna stretches back to Duffy's Fairway Food Store, where it entertained generations of children from 1946-1990.

Tom Brick purchased this mechanical horse for Owatonna Shoe in 2010. Its original history in Owatonna stretches back to Duffy’s Fairway Food Store, where it entertained generations of children from 1946-1990. The horse still works.

…and a mechanical horse for the kids to ride.

Stacked boxes of shoes fill the store.

Stacked boxes of shoes fill the store.

Owatonna Shoe’s business motto, published on its website, says it all:

“We don’t just want to make the sale, we want to make a customer for life.” It’s a long time philosophy of Owatonna Shoe. We pride ourselves in providing unparalleled customer service, unique product offerings, and personalized attention in a fun, laid-back atmosphere.

FYI: To learn more about Owatonna Shoe, which has been serving the area for more than 65 years with service, quality and fit, click here.

BONUS PHOTOS:

This place pops with color and Owatonna pride.

This place pops with color and pride for the Owatonna Huskies.

A shoe sale in the back room in the basement.

A shoe sale in the back room in the basement.

A nod to Owatonna's namesake, the legendary Indian Princess Owatonna, at home where her statue stands in Mineral Springs Park.

A nod to Owatonna’s namesake, the legendary Indian Princess Owatonna. As the story goes, the maiden drank from the healing natural spring waters in the current day Mineral Springs Park.

The store carries the ever popular Red Wing brand of shoes made in Red Wing, Minnesota.

The store carries the ever popular Red Wing brand of shoes made in Red Wing, Minnesota.

Colorful shoes, colorful signs.

Colorful shoes, colorful signs.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Flowers from Steve September 9, 2013

Twiehoff Gardens along St. Paul Road in Faribault offers an abundance of fresh produce.

Twiehoff Gardens along St. Paul Road in Faribault offers an abundance of fresh produce. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

“DO YOU HAVE ANY GLADS?” I asked Steve Twiehoff after my husband and I selected fresh baby red potatoes, green beans and a bag of northern Minnesota grown wild rice at Twiehoff Gardens on Faribault’s east side Sunday afternoon.

“I stopped cutting them,” Steve answered. “The deer were eating them.”

Old-fashioned gladiolus have been a mainstay at Twiehoff Gardens for decades.

Old-fashioned gladioli have been a mainstay at Twiehoff Gardens for decades. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I must have looked disappointed or sighed because he told me then and there that I could head out to the field and cut whatever gladioli I wanted—three for $1.

“Where?”

He pointed toward the slim opening in the pole shed doors, past the onions and gourds and pumpkins piled on a trailer, then outside and across the gravel parking lot and up the hill.

This is as close as I got to the glads, standing along the shoulder of the road photographing them.

Gladioli grow in a field near Utica in Winona County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

“I’ll be back,” I said accepting the clippers this vegetable farmer handed to me. I aimed for the field that held glads, flowers rooted deep in my memory. I can still see the rows of gladioli rising above the greenery of the vegetable garden, splashing pinks and yellow, but mostly orangish red, across the land. My mom’s one small spot of beauty upon soil otherwise designated mostly for crops to feed the family and the livestock.

Steve knew none of this when he gave me the clippers.

But as I worked my way across the uneven and weedy patch of abandoned vegetable and flower garden in my flip flops, I thought of my mom and of her gladioli and how each fall she dug those bulbs—and later I did, too—to winter over in the cellar, to replant in the spring.

The three stems of gladiolus I snipped in Steve's garden.

The three stems of gladiolus I snipped in Steve’s garden.

I snipped three stems of pink blossoms from Steve’s garden, the only trio that appeared salvageable.

Clippers and blooms clutched in my hand, I aimed back for the pole shed to give Steve my dollar.

I laid the flowers on the counter and reached to unclasp my purse. “You can have them,” he said.

I stopped, looked at him. “Are you sure?”

He was.

“Thank you. That is so sweet.”

I picked up the stems. A smile touched my lips. I strode past the onions and gourds and pumpkins piled on the trailer, slipped through the slim opening between the pole shed doors, climbed into the van and considered how Steve had touched my heart with his thoughtfulness and kindness.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A wannabe dairy princess June 20, 2013

The barn where I labored alongside my father while growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. File photo.

The barn where I labored alongside my father and siblings while growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. File photo.

GROWING UP ON A MINNESOTA DAIRY FARM, I’ve always loved dairy products.

Fresh milk from our herd of Holsteins.

Butter and cheese from the bulk truck driver who picked up milk from our farm.

Singing Hills Coffee Shop's delicious maple bacon sundae.

One of my new favorite ice cream treats, a maple bacon sundae from Singing Hills Coffee Shop in Waterville. File photo.

Ice cream from the Schwans man. (My older brother often sneaked the tin can of vanilla ice cream from the freezer and climbed atop the haystack to eat his fill. He failed to remove his spoon, leaving damning evidence connecting him to the ice cream caper. I was too obedient to attempt such thievery.)

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce made a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce make a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing. File photo.

My cheese tastes have, thankfully, expanded beyond American and Velveeta, staples of my childhood. I especially favor the blue cheeses made and aged in sandstone caves right here in Faribault and sold under the names Amablu and St. Pete’s Select. If you like blue cheese, this is your cheese.

Cow sculptures outside The Friendly Confines Cheese Shoppe in LeSueur. File photo.

Cow sculptures outside The Friendly Confines Cheese Shoppe in LeSueur. File photo.

I bring up this topic of dairy products because June marks an annual celebration of all things dairy during “June Dairy Month.” This moniker is imprinted upon my brain. I once ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for Redwood County dairy princess.

Krause Feeds & Supplies in Hope advertised the availability of Hope butter and Bongards cheese. File photo.

Krause Feeds & Supplies in Hope advertises the availability of Hope butter and Bongards cheese. File photo.

Steele County, to the south of my Rice County home, is apparently a big dairy county having at one time served as home to more than 20 creameries. One remains, in the unincorporated village of Hope, producing Hope Creamery butter in small batches. The creamy’s organic butter is especially popular in certain Twin Cities metro eateries.

Owatonna, the county seat, once claimed itself to be “The Butter Capital of the World.” That butter capital title will be the subject of an exhibit opening August 1 and running through November 10 at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. The exhibit will feature the area’s rich dairy history to current day dairy farming in the county. Events will include a roundtable discussion on the dairy industry and, for the kids, butter making and a visit from a real calf.

Notice the cow art on the milkhouse in this image taken this past summer.

Cow art on the milkhouse of my friends Deb and John, who once milked cows in rural Dundas. File photo.

Calves. I love calves. More than any aspect of farming, I loved feeding calves buckets of warm milk replacer or handfuls of pellets. I once named a calf Princess and she became my “pet,” as much as a farm animal can be a pet. Then my older brother—the one who ate ice cream when he wasn’t supposed to—told me one day that my calf had died. I raced upstairs to my bedroom and sobbed and sobbed. Turns out he made up the whole story of Princess’ early demise. She was very much alive.

The vibrant art of Faribault artist Julie Falker of JMF Studio.

The vibrant art of Faribault artist Julie Faklker of JMF Studio. File image.

And so, on this day when I consider June Dairy Month, my mind churns with thoughts of butter and ice cream, of calves and of the dairy princess crown I never wore.

FYI: Faribault area dairy farmers Ron and Diane Wegner are hosting “A Day on the Farm” from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. this Saturday, June 22. Their farm is located just south of Faribault at 25156 Appleton Avenue. The event includes children’s activities, photos with a baby calf and free cheeseburgers, malts and milk. Event sponsors are the Rice County American Dairy Association and the Minnesota Beef Council. The Wegners’ daughter, Kaylee, is the current Rice County dairy princess.

The Redwood County American Dairy Association in my home county of Redwood in southwestern Minnesota is sponsoring a coloring contest for kids and a trivia contest for adults. Click here for details. 

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

For my mother May 12, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:35 AM
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My parents with my brother and me in a photo dated January 1957, but likely taken a few months earlier.

My parents with my brother and me in a photo dated January 1957, but likely taken a few months earlier at my maternal grandpa’s house.

I WONDER SOMETIMES what my mother’s life would have been like had she not chosen motherhood over career.

Not that long-term employment was truly an option for a young woman of the 1950s, unless you chose teaching or nursing, neither of which fit my mother’s professional talents or interests.

After graduating from Wabasso High School in 1951, as valedictorian no less, she attended Mankato Business College then landed a job with the state employment office in Marshall.

By September of 1954, she had quit her job and married. In July 1955 she gave birth to her first son. Within a dozen years, my mother and father would have six children.

Raising a family in rural southwestern Minnesota, in a cramped and drafty three bedroom house with no bathroom, could not have been easy.

I retain memories of my mother striking farmer matches to light the oil burning stove centered in the living room, heating a house wrapped in brown paper, straw bales snugged to the foundation.

I see her dumping buckets of hot water into the galvanized bathtub positioned before the kitchen stove on Saturday nights.

I feel her hands lacing through my stick-straight hair as I lie face-up on the kitchen counter, head draped over the sink, as she works shampoo onto my scalp.

I watch her dump cups of flour and sugar into the white bowl of her Hamilton Beach mixer, stirring up batches of bars too quickly consumed by six hungry kids. I remember, too, the treat of a few chocolate chips dropped into hands.

I smell the yeasty scent of her homemade bread pulled from the oven, remember the snippets of dough she parceled out for me and my sisters to shape miniature buns.

I hear the hiss of hot iron against cotton cloth she’s sprinkled with water.

I watch her grasp the iron ring on the kitchen floor trap door as she sends me down the creaky stairs to the dirt-floored cellar for a jar of golden peaches. Memories of summer days, of wooden crates lugged home from the local grocer, of peaches wrapped in pink tissue, of fruit slipped into boiling water, linger.

I can feel her strength as she stirs the clothes in her Maytag wringer washer with a grey stick propped always against a wall in the porch where smelly chore clothes hung.

She traded a career for all of this.

Was she happy? Did she regret giving up a well-paying and stable job for six kids and poverty?

I’ve never asked.

But I’d like to think she was happy raising a family, instilling in each of her children a strong faith in God and an appreciation and love of family, and of life.

The old farmhouse to the left, where I grew up with the "new house," built in the late 1960s.

The old farmhouse to the left, where I lived until about age 12, with the “new house” in the background. That’s my sister, Lanae, standing on the front steps leading into the porch. Was the house really that small? Apparently so.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How I’ve composed poetry that dances (in the barn) April 4, 2013

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan.

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan. Rural Redwood County is the setting for most of my poetry.

POETRY. That single word encompasses language, music, art, emotion and more. It’s a word to be celebrated in April, designated as National Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets.

I’ve written poetry for about four decades, but not with particular passion or regularity until recent years. Something has evolved within me as a writer, directing me from the narrow path of journalistic style writing to the creativity of penning poetry.

Perhaps a parcel of my new-found enthusiasm can be traced to my publishing success. Seventeen, soon to be 18, of my poems have been published in places ranging from literary journals to anthologies to billboards to a devotional and more. I figure if editors have accepted my poetry for publication, I must be doing something right. And when they reject my poetry, as has happened often enough, they were correct in those decisions.

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

An abandoned farmhouse, like this one along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, inspired my poem, “Abandoned Farmhouse,” published in Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 3.

Most of my poems are rooted in childhood memories from the southwestern Minnesota prairie. I write about topics like barns, walking beans, an abandoned farmhouse, canned garden produce, taking lunch to the men in the field and such.

My poetry rates as visually strong and down-to-earth. There’s no guessing what I am writing about in any of my poems.

Barns, like this one along Minnesota Highway 60 west of Waterville, have woven into my poetry.

Barns, like this one along Minnesota Highway 60 west of Waterville, have woven into my poetry.

Here, for example, is my poem which published in Volume One of Lake Region Review, a high-quality west central Minnesota-based literary magazine of regional writing. To get accepted into this journal in 2011 and then again in 2012 significantly boosted my confidence as a poet given the level of competition and the credentials of other writers selected for publication.

This Barn Remembers

The old barn leans, weather-weary,
shoved by sweeping prairie winds,
her doors sagging with the weight of age,
windows clouded by the dust of time.

Once she throbbed with life
in the heartbeats of 30 Holsteins,
in the footsteps of my farmer father,
in the clench of his strong hands
upon scoop shovel and pitchfork.

This barn spoke to us,
the farmer and the farmer’s children,
in the soothing whir of milking machines
pulsating life-blood, rhythmic, constant, sure.

Inside her bowels we pitched putrid piles of manure
while listening to the silken voices of Charlie Boone
booming his Point of Law on ‘CCO
and Paul Harvey wishing us a “good day,”
distant radio signals transmitting from the Cities and faraway Chicago.

This barn remembers
the grating trudge of our buckle overshoes upon manure-slicked cement,
yellow chore-gloved hands gripping pails of frothy milk,
taut back muscles straining to hoist a wheelbarrow
brimming with ground corn and pungent silage.

This barn remembers, too,
streams of hot cow pee splattering into her gutters,
rough-and-tumble farm cats clumped in a corner
their tongues flicking at warm milk poured into an old hubcap,
and hefty Holsteins settling onto beds of prickly straw.

A rural scene along U.S. Highway 14 near Nicollet.

A rural scene along U.S. Highway 14 near Nicollet.

Let’s examine “This Barn Remembers” to see how I created this poem. Always, always, when penning a poem like this, I shut out the present world and close myself into the past.

I rely on all five senses, not just the obvious sight and sound, to engage the reader:

  • sight—sagging doors, clouded windows, manure-slicked cement
  • sound—soothing whir of milking machines, grating trudge of buckle overshoes, silken voices of Charlie Boone
  • taste—tongues flicking warm milk
  • touch—in the clench of his strong hands, gripping pails of frothy milk, settling onto beds of prickly straw
  • smell—putrid piles of manure, pungent silage

Strong and precise verbs define action: shoved, throbbed, booming, gripping, brimming, splattering, flicking

Literary tools like alliteration—pitched putrid piles of manure—and personification—the barn taking on the qualities of a woman—strengthen my poem.

The words and verses possess a certain musical rhythm. This concept isn’t easy to explain. But, as a poet, I know when my composition dances.

I also realize when I’ve failed, when a poem needs work and/or deserves rejection.

That all said, the best advice I can offer any poet is this:

  • Write what you know.
  • Write from the heart.
  • Write in your voice.
  • Write with fearlessness and honesty. (Note especially this line: “…streams of hot cow pee splattering into her gutters…”)
I grew up on a dairy and crop farm, so I know cows well enough to write about them in my poetry.

I grew up on a dairy and crop farm, so I know cows well enough to write about them in my poetry.

You can bet I smelled that hot cow pee, watched the urine gushing from Holsteins into the gutter, pictured a younger version of myself dodging the deluges, when I penned “This Barn Remembers.” Writing doesn’t get much more honest than cow pee.

IF YOU’RE A POET, a lover of poetry and/or an editor, tell me what works for you in composing/reading/considering poetry.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling