Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Southern Minnesota slides toward Christmas with snow, holiday sales & more November 16, 2022

Volunteers vend trees and more at the Christ Lutheran Christmas Market last weekend in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK, and feel, a lot like Christmas in Minnesota. This week brought snow and cold to our state, a reality check for those of us hoping our stretch of gloriously warm autumn days would continue. Yet, as a life-long Minnesotan, I understood winter weather would arrive no matter my wishful thinking.

As I was out and about in Faribault in the biting wind and cold temps pre-snowfall, I hurried in and out of buildings. Temperature spirals to the 20s and lower always require acclimation, no matter how long I’ve lived in the North Star State (my entire life).

A shopper arrives at the Christmas Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

Throughout my community, the spirit of Christmas is emerging in holiday decorations and holiday boutiques/craft sales/marketplaces, whatever term is tagged to an event featuring handcrafted items, food and more.

This festively-decorated vintage pick-up truck set a holiday mood at the market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

I attended my first of the season, a Christmas Market, at Christ Lutheran Church high atop a hill on Faribault’s east side last Saturday. Originally, the market was planned for outdoors. But then wind moved the sale indoors so vendors’ tents wouldn’t blow over. I felt a tad disappointed as I anticipated attending an outdoor market. But I fully understand given the wind and cold.

Holiday boutiques aren’t just about shopping. They are also about community, about connecting. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

Inside the church, vendors crammed into limited space under tent canopies and at open tables. There was lefse and jewelry and vintage finds and, oh, a whole lot of merch for sale. I focused my attention, though, on the scene outside the front doors of the church. Here a vintage red pick-up truck set the scene for the holiday market.

Smoke from a barrel drifts around the vintage pick-up truck outside the marketplace/church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

Decked with bows, a wreath, a Christmas tree tossed in the bed, a porch pot aside, strung with unlit lights, the truck presented a postcard scene perfect for photo ops. And those were available for a fee.

Outside the Christmas Market entrance, fire flames. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

Near the truck, smoke billowed at times and flames danced from a barrel, adding ambiance and the feeling of warmth in the mid-November cold.

Trees & wreaths sold at the Christ Lutheran Christmas Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

To the side, porch pots, Christmas trees and wreaths leaned and hunkered, available for purchase by anyone wanting to get a jump on holiday decorating.

The City of Faribault has already put up holiday decorations in the downtown area, here looking toward the historic viaduct near Buckham Memorial Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

November sometimes feels too early for all of this—the Christmas decorations, the holiday sales. But, in reality, it’s not. Minnesotans understand that putting exterior lights and decorations up when the weather is warm is just plain smart. No frozen fingers. No dealing with snow. Too late now. Both are upon us. And so is this season of holidays markets.

Outside Buckham Library, a bold holiday banner marks the season. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

I suppose it’s smart also to get a jump on gift buying to ease the stress, to spread out the spending. There seem to be more local boutiques/craft sales/markets with an emphasis on local. I like that shift toward supporting creatives within our communities whether at church-based sales like those at Christ Lutheran, at art centers, at local shops… There’s a connection to those who use their hands—to stitch, to knit, to saw, to string beads, to roll potato-based dough into lefse rounds…

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FYI: Here are a few upcoming holiday boutiques/craft sales/markets in my area:

Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Boutique/Craft Sale from 9 am – 3 pm Saturday, November 19, in the auditorium.

Holly Days Sale, Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, November 17 (opening at 5 pm) – December 22, featuring one-of-a-kind art by local artists.

Holiday Boutique, Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery, now until December 31

Christmas Pop Up Shoppe, Buckham West, Faribault, November 26, 28 & 29, hours vary.

For specifics on each listing, please click on links.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wood-fired pizza from “where the hills sing & the trees clap” August 13, 2022

On a perfect summer evening, a crowd gathers for music, pizza and conversation at Christ Lutheran Church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

AS OLD COUNTRY BROTHERS belted out popular songs from The Eagles, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton and many others, volunteers across the backyard of Christ Lutheran Church created, baked and delivered homemade wood-fired pizzas to an appreciative crowd. Randy and I were among those attending the last of the summer Holy Smoke concert series and pizza nights Wednesday at the church on the hill on Faribault’s east side.

The roadside sign posted along Minnesota State Highway 60 by the driveway into Christ Lutheran. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Old Country Brothers Gregg and Jeff Sartor perform on August 10. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Smoked brisket pizza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In its sixth year, Holy Smoke is about more than excellent thin crust pizza and music. This is also about a coming together of community on a perfect August evening in southeastern Minnesota. This is also about giving back. Proceeds from the three summer gatherings benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity and HOPE Center.

A themed t-shirt sported by a volunteer who paused to visit with attendees. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

A message printed on some volunteers’ t-shirts and on a bench dedicated to Pastor Craig and Carol Breimhorst (the pastor died of COVID-19; the first death in our county) references Isaiah 55:12, fitting Scripture for this hilltop church edged by trees and a sweeping lawn descending to Minnesota State Highway 60.

The menu posted just inside the front door, ticket table to the right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

There’s joy in that biblical reference just as there’s joy among those who make Holy Smoke happen. A ticket taker, whom I thanked, tapped her hand to her heart, showing me from whence her joy rises.

The pizza bakers at the wood-fired oven just outside the church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Plenty of heat here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

An overview of the wood-fired oven system. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I found the same enthusiasm among the crew tending the wood-fired pizza oven. The heat flaming inside to 700-plus degrees made the work station at times uncomfortably hot. But they forged on, baking pizzas.

Volunteers assemble pizzas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Chicken bacon ranch pizza ready for the wood-fired oven. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Inside the fellowship hall, other volunteers layered sliced tomatoes, meat toppings, cheese and more onto rounds of dough.

The busy kitchen crew. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the kitchen, three women worked, two doing dishes, the third snipping chives.

When we arrived at around 5:45 pm to find the parking lot overflowing, I thought the wait would be long. It wasn’t. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Still others rolled pizza cutters across pizzas hot from the oven, pizzas ready for more volunteers to carry to hungry customers. The wait time is short, especially if you order a quarter of a pie.

Attendees spread out across the backyard to listen to Old Country Brothers and to enjoy pizza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

From my observations, the entire pizza-making and delivery process runs smoothly. Everywhere I saw smiles. Smiles on the faces of volunteers, beginning with the greeter who met us at the door. And smiles among those eating pizza and enjoying the music of Gregg and Jeff Sartor. I felt the joy.

Kids blew and caught bubbles, ran free… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Families and friends gather at Holy Smoke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Kids roll down the steep hillside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Holy Smoke is an event for all ages, from kids blowing bubbles, rolling down the hillside, running across the lawn and climbing on rocks ringing a tree to older folks relaxing in lawn chairs.

There is some on-site seating. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

This is a mostly bring-your-own chairs, own napkins (I’d also advise paper plates, wet wipes and a portable side table) event, although limited picnic table space is available.

Connecting in conversation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Mostly, Holy Smoke seems about community. About connecting. About conversations. About supportive businesses. About joy.

Printed on a t-shirt worn by a pizza baker. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the loveliness of the summer evening, I heard the hills sing. I heard the trees clap. And I tasted some “holy smoke, this is good” smoked brisket pizza.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Holy smoke, time for music & pizza June 7, 2022

The Todd Thompson Band gets up close to the audience at a past Holy Smoke concert. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2017)

TIS THE SEASON for outdoor local summer events and gatherings that feature music and/or food.

Christ Lutheran Church, the church on the hill along State Highway 60 on the east side of Faribault, kicks off its Holy Smoke Pizza Ministry this Wednesday, June 8, from 5-8:30 pm. If you live in the Faribault area, this is a must-attend event for the homemade pizza and the music.

I’ve attended numerous times. The pizza, made in an outdoor oven, is savory/delicious/just darned good. I’d recommend the BBQ brisket. Be prepared to wait. And also come prepared with lawn chairs or blankets as picnic table seating is limited.

A photo of pizza from Grandview Valley Winery, used here for illustration only. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2014)

Whole pizzas, in assorted varieties, cost $22. Quarters are also available for $7. All proceeds benefit local charities, this summer Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota, HOPE Center and Rice County Habitat for Humanity.

While the pizza is certainly a draw, so is the music. This week Relativity, a group featuring a vocalist and instrumentalists on guitar, mandolin and fiddle, performs current top 40 songs to classic and folk rock. The trio includes fiddler/mandolin player Mike Hildebrandt, an inductee into the Minnesota Rock & Country Music Hall of Fame.

The steeple of Christ Lutheran. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2017)

Holy Smoke is not just about music and pizza and giving back to the community. It’s also about gathering with others in a beautiful backyard type setting on a summer evening. It’s a good time to catch up with friends and/or make new friends. Note, though, that anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who has been in contact with anyone who has tested positive in the past 14 days and is not fully-vaccinated should NOT attend. I am thankful for that safety measure. The first person to die of complications related to COVID-19 in my county of Rice was the Rev. Craig Breimhorst, retired pastor of Christ Lutheran Church. He died in April 2020 after returning from a trip to the Holy Land.

If you can’t make this week’s Holy Smoke, two other Wednesday concert-pizza nights will be held. On July 13, Todd Finney performs and on August 10, Old Country Brothers.

A view of St. John’s at a 2016 car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2016)

There’s another concert in the area at 7 pm on Wednesday, June 8, that is also worth your consideration. St. John’s United Church of Christ Wheeling Township (near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park) is hosting a summer evening of outdoor worship featuring the music ministry of 29:11 International Exchange. That group is based in Minnesota and South Africa. Its mission is to “facilitate hope and reconciliation through music, cross-cultural relationships and individual artist development…by recognizing that each of us is worthy of understanding and love, we can bridge the ideological, racial and socio-economic gaps that divide us and live together as citizens of the world.” Again, bring lawn chairs or blankets.

I feel grateful to both St. John’s and Christ Lutheran for hosting these outdoor community-focused summer events which benefit attendees and beyond.

TELL ME: Is there a similar event in your community that you try to attend each summer?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Holy Smoke, what talented musicians & what great food July 18, 2017

 

TWO TURKEY VULTURES rode the wind high above the church on the hill. Dipping, circling, gliding.

 

Sweet Potato Jackson performs.

 

Far below in the grassy side yard of Christ Lutheran Church, Sweet Potato Jackson and the Todd Thompson Band entertained with foot-tapping bluegrass, pop, country, gospel and other tunes. Adults settled into lawn chairs and listened. Kids ran—to the playground and back. A wee girl swayed to the rhythm of the banjo, the guitar, the mandolin and other string instruments.

 

The Todd Thompson Band gets up close to the audience.

 

I sang the lion sleeps tonight, only 10 feet from the quartet performing the catchy tune I remember from decades ago. My husband and I were front row with the Todd Thompson Band, four guys standing on the lawn and performing music with an unbridled passion. I could see their love for song in the rapid movement of their fingers across strings, hear it in their enthusiastic voices.

 

 

They exuded joy during this event billed as Holy Smokes! by the host Lutheran congregation. One Wednesday evening a month during the summer, this church on Faribault’s east side offers a free concert as a community outreach. The music is served up along with savory homemade pizza and smoked pork and brisket sandwiches and sides available for purchase. Proceeds from the meal benefit people in need in the community.

 

The hilltop location offers a wide view of Faribault and beyond.

 

The descriptive words holy smoke fit both the food and the featured musicians. And the setting. This is a tranquil location overlooking this southeastern Minnesota city and beyond. Wind blowing a cool breeze through trees after a hot and humid day. Shifting white clouds in a blue sky. Lovely. Kids and music and the occasional adult conversation blending in a soothing harmony.

 

 

I delighted in the carefree feel of this event, of watching children run and play like kids should on a summer evening as perfect as they get in Minnesota. I was reminded of bygone years when my extended family gathered to visit and we cousins played without adult direction, without any planned activity.

For a few hours I forgot about the problems of the world, about the challenges in life. I simply was—enveloped in Holy Smokes!

 

FYI: The next Holy Smokes! concert is set for 6 – 9 p.m. Wednesday, August 9, at Christ Lutheran, 1200 NE First Street (along Minnesota State Highway 60), Faribault. Bring lawn chairs or blankets and an appetite for great food and equally great music by Sweet Potato Jackson and Sarah Crissinger.

Note: I’ll rephotograph Holy Smokes! (including the food) once I’m healed from my shoulder fracture and able to shoot with my Canon DSLR camera.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling