Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The ban on Christmas gifts December 26, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:33 AM
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WHEN MY ELDEST DAUGHTER first suggested it, I questioned how we could have Christmas without gifts.

Turns out we can. Sort of.

After a family vote, in which we all agreed to not exchange gifts, we didn’t.

Note the word, “exchange.”

I used festive holiday trim and a card from Christmases past to decorate this gift.

A gift from a previous Christmas. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

About a week before Christmas, I considered that I am the mom and thus have the right to break the new rule. And I did.

But I didn’t rush out to buy gifts for my husband, all three of my adult children and son-in-law. Rather, I looked first at what I already had in my home.

Each daughter received a handmade apron belonging to her maternal grandma.

I also gave the eldest a puzzle map of the U.S. Turns out, though, that when she opened the gift, Amber thought she was getting her own puzzle back. Nope, I clarified. That puzzle you played with during your youth was a childhood Christmas present to me. Best cherish this vintage puzzle, even if Kentucky is missing.

The second daughter also got a vintage print I picked up this summer. It’s a print of a girl and a bird which nearly all of the women in my family own—one of those family things.

Miranda’s favorite present, though, seems to be the poem I wrote about her.

That left the men. The son-in-law was easy. He loves blue cheeses made and cave-aged in Faribault. A block of cheese it was for him.

But the 20-year-old son proved more challenging. In principle, he’s opposed to gift cards. Scratch that off the list of easiest possibilities. So I just asked him what he wanted and he ordered it online with delivery promised in two days. Problem solved. The package arrived when he was sleeping. I wrapped the watch and tossed it under the tree.

The husband will get his present, homemade Date Pinwheel Cookies (like his mother used to make, except better, he says) once the surplus supply of sweets in the house diminishes.

As for me, I, too, found a gift—a box of chocolates—under the tree with my name printed on the wrapping. Sweetness from my husband.

My desk caddy Christmas gift.

My desk caddy Christmas gift.

And then there was the surprise, a small square package which, had I not known its source, I might have thought contained jewelry. When I ripped off the paper on Christmas Eve, I found a desk accessory painted in vivid hues of orange, blue and my favorite lime green. Perfect for pens, pencils and paper clips. Darling little Nevaeh, elementary-aged daughter of friends, painted the organizer and delivered it days earlier along with a jar of homemade sweet treats.

Aren’t those the best gifts, the ones crafted with love or the ones that hold personal significance?

Today, when many of you are standing in line to return items like the zebra-print sweater from Aunt Edna or the bulky loon slippers or the set of screwdrivers you don’t want because they are cheap, I won’t be returning anything. It’s not like I would ever return a box of chocolates.

As for the no Christmas gifts rule, I have mixed feelings. Drawing names so each person receives one present would suit me better. But then again, I didn’t miss the shopping, trying to find the perfect gift. Not one bit. No presents eased a lot of holiday stress.

The original proposal, to do something together as a family (like attend a holiday play at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis) instead of exchanging gifts, was a great idea in theory. But with the son living in Boston and one of the daughters living 300 miles away in eastern Wisconsin, it didn’t work. You have to all be together.

My three, plus the eldest daughter's boyfriend, Marc, opened gifts Christmas Eve afternoon. Caleb is juggling on the left with his new juggling balls.

Christmas two years ago, when we were all together and there were lots of gifts given. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Maybe some year. But next Christmas the eldest and her husband will spend Christmas in California with his family and the other daughter may be on-call and…

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Christmas gift possibilities crafted in southern Minnesota December 10, 2012

THIS TIME OF YEAR the crafters emerge, peddling their wares at malls and craft shows.

I am nearly always impressed and, in all sincerity, envious of their talents. How do they manage to transform a simple piece of wood into a work of art, a skein of yarn into something beautiful and wearable, food ingredients into the most delectable treats…?

Saturday’s craft show at the Faribo West Mall presented an array of crafters showcasing their work for sale.

I couldn’t possibly photograph everyone, so here’s a sampling of the offerings.

Beautifully-packaged Cheryl's Turtles.

Beautifully-packaged Cheryl’s Turtles.

Let’s begin with Cheryl’s Turtles, sinfully delicious candy created by Cheryl Morris in her south Faribault home. Cheryl was parceling out samples of her treat prepared, she emphasized, with her homemade caramel. I was especially impressed with Cheryl’s lovely product packaging; this woman clearly understands the value in presentation. She even told me that her sons, who are sales reps, will gift their customers with these delightful mini packages of sweetness. Cheryl stirs up candy year-round and these same packages will fit her Valentine’s Day marketing plan.

JENean Mortenson's art painted onto a box.

JENean Mortenson’s art painted onto a box.

JENean Mortenson, who shared a table with Cheryl, was selling her hand-painted pieces and stained glass art by her husband. Although she did not specifically tell me this, JENean’s love of gardening clearly influences her art. I’m not sure how we even got on the topic of gardening, but this rural Faribault woman’s gardens have been on the local garden tour many times.

Chuck Henry's cutting boards crafted from reclaimed wood scraps.

Chuck Henry’s cutting boards crafted from reclaimed wood scraps.

Nearby, Faribault resident Chuck Henry takes an approach to crafting that truly fits today’s trendy green living. He uses reclaimed wood from his brother Dave’s custom cabinet shop to saw, glue and press pieces of otherwise cast-off wood scraps into one-of-a-kind cutting boards, trivets and cheese trays. Chuck calls his creations “usable and kind of pretty.” He’s nailed it with that modest description.

Nyla Wille knits while she and her husband tend their table.

Nyla Wille knits while she and her husband tend their table.

Yarn flies across the needles in Nyla's crafty hands.

Yarn flies across the needles in Nyla’s crafty hands.

Next table over, Nyla Wille of Morristown was knitting faster than I could photograph. She asked if I was from the local daily paper and I explained that I’m a blogger simply passionate about writing and photography and sharing my discoveries with readers. Then she tipped me off to a recent visit to the Mall of America by ABC resulting in the Faribault Woolen Mill Co. making “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer” on December 5. The mill’s MOA store was highlighted in a segment called “Made in America, Christmas Edition: The Store America Built.” How cool is that? You can watch that video by clicking here. And you can check out the woolen mill’s on-site store in Faribault by clicking here.

A snippet of the cross Bud Paschke crafted honoring veterans from all branches of the military.

A snippet of the cross Bud Paschke crafted honoring veterans from all branches of the military.

Anyone with a veteran on their Christmas gift list could find the perfect gift among Faribault resident Bud Paschke’s scroll-sawed fretwork designs. It amazes me how anyone can cut such fine details into a piece of wood without sawing off one’s fingertips.

One of Cheryl Anderson's creations from her Nana's Hat Shop.

One of Cheryl Anderson’s creations from her Nana’s Hat Shop.

I absolutely fell for Cheryl Anderson’s array of Nana’s Hat Shop hats, mittens, baby sweaters and other handiwork crocheted in often vibrant hues. This Faribault woman even allowed me to position a Styrofoam head for the best photo op. How “Minnesota Nice” is that?

A sampling of Linda Kooyer's jewelry.

A sampling of Linda Kooyer’s jewelry.

Linda Kooyer’s table was splashed with jewelry, where she sold bracelets for as low as 6 for $5. I snapped up one made of wood.

A holiday doily crocheted years ago by some crafty crafter.

A holiday doily crocheted years ago by some crafty crafter.

Finally, Verna Bahl, a long-time Avon collector, was selling a few of the remaining items in her collection as well as some vintage stuff like this Christmas doily. I contemplated purchasing the crocheted poinsettia piece for the pure kitsch art aspect, but decided, yeah, I really don’t need this. But that did not keep me from snatching up several delicate vintage floral handkerchiefs for a quarter apiece.

TELL ME. Are you a crafter crafting gifts for family and/or selling your creations at holiday craft shows?

IF ANYONE WISHES to connect with any of the crafters featured here, I can connect you. Submit a comment with your contact info (I won’t publish the contact info) and I will pass it along.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Support regional writing this Christmas via the gift of words December 6, 2012

WITH ALL THE “SHOP LOCAL” buzz this time of year, have you ever considered how that applies to the printed word?

Are you supporting local and regional authors, writers from within your state?

Allow me to show you two Minnesota publications that would make ideal Christmas gifts for anyone who appreciates regional based writing. Both feature collections of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry.

Lake Region Review, volume two, with cover art by  Charles Beck

Lake Region Review, volume two, with cover art by Charles Beck

Lake Region Review, a literary magazine centered in Battle Lake in the northwestern part of our state, showcases work by writers from Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas selected in a competitive process. This year 34 pieces were culled from some 430 submissions for publication in volume two.

In their introduction to this 160-page soft-cover book-style collection produced by the Lake Region Writers Network, co-editors Athena Kildegaard and Mark Vinz write in part:

Our aim in selecting writing for this issue is simply to look for the best writing that engages and enlightens through attention to language. In these pages you’ll find characters challenged by circumstances (and weather), poems charged with vitality (and weather), and essays that will provoke and move you.

How true. With topics like polio and Alzheimer’s, installing a satellite dish on a snowy rooftop and falling through the ice, unemployment and death, and even some stories—“Norwegian Love” and “Julebukking”—of Scandinavian influence, you are certain to find writing that entertains and evokes emotional reactions.

The writers themselves range from beginners to seasoned.

Visitors to the Kaddatz Galleries in downtown Fergus Falls peruse the art of Charles Beck.

Visitors to the Kaddatz Galleries in downtown Fergus Falls peruse the art of Charles Beck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

A bonus to both volumes of Lake Region Review is the original regional-based cover art. This year’s cover features “Cardinals,” a wood print by well-known Minnesota artist Charles Beck of Fergus Falls.

Stephen Hennings painting on the cover of Lake Region Review, volume one.

Stephen Henning’s painting on the cover of Lake Region Review, volume one.

Last year a detail of an original landscape painting, “Christina Lake: View from Seven Sisters,” by nationally-renowned artist Stephen Henning of Evansville graced the cover of volume one.

Like Lake Region Review, The Talking Stick produced by the Jackpine Writer’s Bloc based in Menahga (near Park Rapids) offers a quality selection of works in a book-style collection.

The cover of The Talking Stick, Volume 21, Nightfall, also has a Minnesota bend with a stock photo of loons on a lake from iStockphoto.com.

The cover of The Talking Stick, Volume 21, Nightfall, also has a Minnesota bend with a stock photo of loons on a lake from iStockphoto.com.

According to the Jackpine website, “…we publish to encourage solid writing that shows promise, creativity and brilliance.”

Especially heavy in poetry (94 poems), volume 21 of this literary journal features 130 pieces (chosen from 278 submissions) by writers from Minnesota or with a Minnesota connection.

With titled works like “Bologna Sandwich,” “Memories of Duluth,” “And a Bier for Dad,” “January Snow,” “Iceout,” “Blueberry Woods Symphony,” and more, the Minnesota influence presses deep into the 192 pages of this volume, subtitled Nightfall.

Therein lies the beauty of buying local in the printed word: a strong regional imprint.

That local connection also ties into the financial support provided to these two literary collections. Otter Tail Power Company, an energy company servicing western Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas, provided “generous support” to Lake Region Review. And a grant from the Region 2 Arts Council with funding from the Minnesota Legislature financed, in part, volume 21 of The Talking Stick.

HAVE YOU PURCHASED/or will you buy local books or literary collections as Christmas gifts this year? If so, please share your recommendations.

FYI: To learn more about the two literary collections highlighted here and how to purchase them, click here for the Lake Region Review. Then click here for The Talking Stick.

Some of the writers published in Lake Region Review, volume two, will read from their works beginning at 2 p.m. this coming Sunday, December 9, at Zandbroz Variety, 420 Broadway Avenue, in downtown Fargo, N.D. (If only I was going to be in Fargo this weekend. But I will read some of my poetry beginning at 6:00 p.m. Thursday, December 6, in the Great Hall at Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault.)

Disclaimer: My work has been published in both volumes of Lake Region Review and in several volumes of The Talking Stick. However, I received no monetary compensation for that or for this review, nor was I asked to pen this post.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


What was I thinking when I almost said… January 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:00 AM
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I NEARLY MESSED UP as a parent Wednesday morning.

“We had a pizza party in Mrs. Brown’s class yesterday,” my 16-year-old said as he pulled his backpack onto his shoulders.

“For what?” I asked.

“We won Toys for Tots,” he replied, explaining that his fourth hour prime time and trigonometry/pre-calculus class collected the most money to purchase Christmas gifts for needy children and was rewarded with pizza.

“Did you take anything?” I questioned, doubting that he participated since he hadn’t asked me for money.

“Fifteen dollars.”

That’s when I nearly said—but caught myself just in time—that $15 was “too much” to donate given my son isn’t currently working.

But, at the precise moment the “too much” phrase nearly tumbled out of my mouth, I realized the stupidity of what I was about to say.

Instead I praised his gift. “That was very generous. I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah,” he smiled, wrapped me in a tight hug and walked out the door.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Memorable 2010 Christmas gifts December 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:50 AM
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WHAT DID YOU GET for Christmas? Anything interesting, fun, different?

This wind-up NunZilla walked and shot fiery sparks from her mouth. Sadly, the toy worked only briefly.

The gift our second eldest gave to her father ranks as the most entertaining and unusual of all the presents exchanged in our household.

Having heard her dad’s stories about attending a Catholic grade school, our daughter picked up a NunZilla at Vagabond Imports in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The sparking, walking, ruler-toting wind-up toy nun proved to be the perfect humorous gift for a man who endured the physical punishment of a sister or two during his childhood. He’s never explained why the nuns slapped his hands with a ruler or dug a thumb into his scalp. Apparently they thought he was misbehaving. He can laugh about it now, kind of.

I don’t condone corporal punishment. However, times were different back in the 1960s and teachers, unfortunately, got away with such physical abuse. Sad, but true. I can’t speak from first-hand experience (because I did not grow up Catholic), but I would like to believe that the ruler-slapping nuns were in the minority and that most were kind and caring.

Another Christmas gift also drew my attention, or should I say my husband’s attention. As he washed the eight new dinner plates that our eldest gave me, he noticed that the “IKEA of Sweden” plates were “made in China.” No need to say more on that one.

FYI, the wind-up NunZilla was also made in China.

Finally, the ghost of Annie Mary Twente, a 6-year-old girl who was buried alive near Hanska, Minnesota, in 1886, remembered me with a Christmas gift. For the second consecutive year, she (AKA my cousin Dawn and Aunt Marilyn) sent me a book about mice. She knows how much I detest rodents and takes great delight in taunting me.

The book was not—I don’t think—printed in China.

The imprint on the bottom on my new IKEA plates.

But the other part of Annie Mary’s gift, a combination calendar and notepad decorated with chickens (of which I am not fond), was manufactured in China.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Did you receive any memorable Christmas gifts? Humorous or otherwise? Submit a comment to Minnesota Prairie Roots. I’d love to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling