Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Christmas gratitude, Part II December 24, 2019

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A handmade ornament for sale at Fleur de Lis in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

“YOU GOT A LARGE PACKAGE,” Randy said. “From Amazon.”

“I’m not expecting anything,” I answered from our bed where I was layered in sweats, a tee, flannel shirt, and heavy sweater under a flannel sheet, two blankets, a comforter and a denim/fleece blanket. With a fever, I simply could not get warm.

I awakened this morning to a full-blown case of crud that caused us to cancel a planned trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to celebrate Christmas with our second daughter, her husband and our son. I felt more than a bit down. Then that unexpected package arrived.

Randy wrestled the huge box inside the front door just as I emerged from the bedroom to see what this was all about. He slit the taped box to reveal an Instant Pot, an item included on my wish list in Saturday’s “Dear Santa” post.

I was stunned, overwhelmed by the kindness of the anonymous blog reader who was moved to give me an item on that list. I found a sweet note inside, signed by Your Ms. Santa.

I also received a copy of Amanda in Spain—The Girl in the Painting by Darlene Foster. That arrived in a separate package so I’m uncertain whether the two items are from the same giver.

It matters not. What matters is how grateful I am for these gifts, for the thoughtfulness of Ms. Santa, for experiencing, for the second day in a row, the true spirit of Christmas. Yesterday I received a cash gift from an anonymous individual.

In these days when so much unkindness exists, these individuals exemplify goodness, kindness and the giving spirit of Christmas. I am blessed. Again.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas wishes December 23, 2019

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An historic Nativity in Faribault (edited photo).

 

TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS, a most blessed Christmas! However you celebrate, I wish for you a sense of peace, moments of joy.

I recognize that we all face challenges, that life can overwhelm, that holidays can be difficult. There’s no skirting the realities of life stressors.

But this week, as I celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, I hold hope high. May you, too.

Audrey

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dear Santa December 21, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

DEAR SANTA,

I hesitate to write this last-minute letter given your hectic travel schedule and the sheer volume of work involved in delivering gifts around the world, not to mention supervising all those elves. I can’t imagine the stress. I bet you’re thankful for smartphones, loyal reindeer and a reliable sleigh.

I don’t mean to add to your burden, Santa. But I haven’t asked for anything from you in decades. So I thought I would send you my Christmas list and see what you can do. Here goes:

DSLR camera  (My aged Canon EOS 20-D performs poorly in low light and, well, it won’t last forever.)

office chair (Mine is ripping on the back and I need one that offers better back support.)

comforter (I noticed when I made the bed last week that ours is tearing.)

new bed (Ours is wearing out, as in sagging.)

new pots and pans (Mine are circa late 70s, handles coming loose…)

insta pot (This is a wish, not a need.)

kitchen update (Or at least a new faucet to replace the leaky one and maybe a new sink to replace the brown one.)

new smartphone (My Android is old and slow.)

shirts & sweaters (A weight loss necessitates this as does the need to upgrade an aging wardrobe.)

short boots (Not snowboots, but the fashion kind.)

There you go, Santa.

Wait a minute. I’m having second thoughts about asking for so much. I am thankful for all I already have. Let’s cross all those wishes off my list and make it a single wish. Here’s what I really want, and not just for myself: I want affordable health insurance, lower deductibles and insurance companies to stop making decisions about individual healthcare. Do you possess enough magic to make that happen?

Here’s the deal. The overwhelming cost of health insurance ($1,700/month for us with $4,250/each deductibles in 2020) is causing financial and emotional stress not only for me and Randy but for many others (those who are self-employed, work for small businesses with minimal or no benefits…) in the same situation. I don’t expect free insurance. But I do expect reasonable premiums and deductibles that make our insurance affordable and usable.

I know of family members, myself included, who are not getting necessary healthcare because they can’t afford it, due to the aforementioned high premiums and deductibles. And, no, I can get neither subsidy or tax credit. I checked, with multiple sources (aka MNsure navigators and social services). We fall through a loophole.

I know of family members denied prescriptions or treatments because health insurance companies judged these unnecessary or determined there were other options. Why do insurance companies have the right to override a medical provider’s directive? This makes absolutely no sense to me, Santa. Sure, policyholders can appeal decisions. But why aren’t doctors’ orders good enough?

I expect that for every grievance I could list here, thousands millions more exist.

Well, Santa, I don’t want to sound like a complainer and you probably can’t grant this wish. But if you have any connections with anyone who can effect change, I’d appreciate your help.

Safe travels and Merry Christmas!

Love,

Audrey

 

In the spirit of the holiday, I’m grateful for local businesses December 20, 2019

Urns filled with greenery add a holiday flair to the historic Bachrach building in downtown Faribault.

 

IF YOU’RE OLD SCHOOL—and that would be me—you appreciate homegrown brick-and-mortar businesses. These are the places that make our communities unique, the places that offer excellent customer service, the places that connect us as people, the places that boost our local economies.

 

Faribault Print Shop offers lots of options and promotes shopping local with the I GET IT! in Faribault campaign.

 

I can walk into the local hardware store to a greeting of “What can I help you find?” I can walk into a local third-generation family shoe store, be greeted by name, get my feet measured, shoes fitted. I can walk into a local gallery and chat it up with other creatives. People I know by name.

 

The only Grinch you will find in downtown Faribault is this painted one.

 

I love this about my community of Faribault. The interaction between business owners and customers. The feeling that I matter, as an individual as much as a potential customer.

 

In its window display this December, Heartman Insurance honors the Olympia Cafe, once housed in the firm’s building.

 

Historic buildings line Central Avenue in Faribault.

 

I love, too, the historic buildings that define our downtown and the care most property owners take in maintaining those structures.

 

At the Cheese Cave, windows promote the cheese sold inside, including bleu cheeses made and aged in Faribault.

 

Keepers Antique Shop always does an exceptional job with window displays, any time of the year.

 

On the antique shop door.

 

I love how, this time of year, businesses spread holiday cheer through creative window displays, encouraged by an annual competition.

 

An assortment of art in the front window of The Upper East Side Gallery.

 

Not everything here is perfect, of course. Nowhere is. There are vacant eyesore storefronts, negative attitudes still about immigrants who call downtown home (although that seems to be improving), perceived problems with parking…

 

 

But, overall, Faribault frames a positive image in a place I’ve called home for 37 years.

FYI: For another shop local option, check out the Solstice Market from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 21, at Keepsake Cidery, rural Dundas. Styled after outdoor European markets, the event will feature bonfires, grilling and 20-plus vendors from the Cannon Valley region vending their wares/food/creations inside a heated tent. The cidery is open from noon – 8 p.m.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Faribault’s holiday generosity December 12, 2019

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’VE WRITTEN THIS BEFORE, but I’ll repeat it. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Example: Randy and I visited some older folks last Sunday afternoon, delivering poinsettias as part of a shut-in outreach at our church, Trinity Lutheran. We talked everything from art to farming. We remembered, laughed, delighted in the conversations which took two hours out of our day. Two hours. Time is a gift. We gave it and experienced the joy that comes in connecting with those who can’t get out and about like they once did.

This coming Sunday afternoon we’ll gather with friends to wrap a whole lot of gifts for individuals and families in need through Trinity’s Angel Tree Project. My friend Mike heads that annual endeavor and tells us we have more gifts than ever to wrap. The need is great. But so is the generosity of those who each December amaze us with the items they purchase for Angel Tree gift recipients. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

 

A Community Christmas Dinner sign banners the front of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

 

Another Faribault church, Fourth Avenue United Methodist, is also giving back to the community this Sunday with its annual free Community Christmas Dinner. We’ve attended numerous times, delighting in the company of other guests and of this friendly congregation. A dinner of chicken breast, meatballs, King Hawaiian stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, candied carrots, dinner rolls and cupcakes will be served from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. in the church basement.

 

Another giving and embracing message posted outside Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church. Love this.

 

But Fourth Avenue United Methodist is doing more than serving food. A free-will offering at the dinner will go toward Believet Canine Service Partners, a Northfield-based nonprofit which provides service dogs to disabled veterans at no charge. Since 2015, Believet has paired 12 dogs with vets. Cost to train and place a single service dog is approximately $28,000, according to the Believet website. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

 

Inside the historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Also this weekend, the Faribault-based choral ensemble Beau Chant (French for “Beautiful Singing”) presents two holiday concerts in Faribault. They will perform “Tis the Season” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 14, in Newhall Auditorium at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and at 3 p.m. Sunday, December 15, at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. Cost is $12. When I consider the time these singers commit to practicing and then performing during the busy holiday season, I realize that this, too, is a gift. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

 

A streetscape shot along Central Avenue shows the restored marquee at the historic Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

And, finally, the Faribault Area Community Band gives a free hour-long holiday concert at 7 p.m. Sunday, December 15, at the Paradise Center for the Arts. It’s more blessed to give than to receive.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me how you, or others in your community, are giving back this holiday season.

 

NOTE: I have highlighted here only a few of the many ways individuals and organizations in my community are giving to others during this holiday season.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The art of the holiday season in downtown Faribault December 11, 2019

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The Holly Days Sale at the Paradise Center for the Arts features a wide variety of handcrafted art like this glass Christmas tree.

 

WHENEVER I SHOP a holiday boutique, a craft fair, a farmers’ market, a local pop-up, a gallery, I’m impressed by the work of creatives. What talent.

 

A sandwich board outside the Paradise promotes two events there last Saturday.

 

I can relate. I understand their passion for the creative process. When I create with images and words, I become fully-engaged in crafting my art. I love what I do.

 

The Winter Wonderland Group Show currently graces a gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

Can you imagine this world without art? I can’t. Not personally or otherwise.

 

A streetscape along Central Avenue shows the restored marquee at the historic Paradise and festive holiday decorations.

 

Sakatah Carvers sculpted this Rudolph ice art during last week’s Winterfest.

 

This mural based on an historic photo of skating on the Straight River hangs on the side of 10,000 Drops Distillery housed in an historic building just off Central Avenue in Faribault.

 

We are blessed here in Faribault to have a thriving arts community and a community which embraces these artists—whether knitters, sculptors, photographers, performers, even those farmers’ market vendors who craft homemade jams and sweet treats. They, too, are artists.

 

The artsy sign promoting a holiday market at 10,000 Drops and Corks & Pints last Saturday.

 

Last Saturday during Faribault’s Winterfest, I perused several creative-focused events with artists vending their wares. Pottery. Jewelry. Paintings. Photographs. Food. And much more.

 

Entrepreneurs Elizabeth and Sophie vending their slime.

 

I met two young sisters from New Prague, Elizabeth and Sophie, selling slime under their brand, Slimey.Unicorns. They’re an ambitious pair who attended a slime convention in Chicago before launching their line earlier this year and selling at farmers’ and other markets. They seem market-savvy with names like You’re a Minty One Mr. Grinch and Egg Nog tagged to mini pots of their homemade slime. I told them I expected to see them on “Shark Tank” some day pitching their product. They looked at me with blank looks.

 

The sisters’ slime.

 

No matter, I congratulated them on their success—the sisters made several sales while I waited to talk to them—and then moved on to view the works of other creatives.

 

This art marks a pop-up shop along Faribault’s Central Avenue.

 

I didn’t purchase anything while on my creative tour in historic downtown Faribault. But plenty of others did, supporting those who are passionate about art. Like me.

FYI: Vendors from the Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market will sell at their final market of 2019 from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 21, at the Keepsake Cidery Solstice Market in rural Dundas.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Signs of Christmas linger in Minnesota into March March 28, 2019

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ACROSS THE STREET, on my neighbor’s front door, a faded Christmas wreath hangs. Needles dried and dropping. Decorative ribbon faded. In my own side yard, our dried Christmas tree, once buried under snow, lies atop a flowerbed.

 

Christmas greetings on an outbuilding on a farm site just west of Mankato along U.S. Highway 14 photographed on Saturday.

 

It’s not uncommon here in Minnesota to see outdoor Christmas decorations up well into spring. Whatever the reason. I suppose the cold and snow hinder removal, especially this winter.

 

In a New Ulm yard, a sign on a tire swing says, “Santa stop here.” Christmas lights also wrap an entry column on the left. Photographed on Saturday, March 23.

 

Or, after awhile, we simply don’t notice whatever we pass by on a daily basis. That explains, for example, why cardboard covers a section of wall in my dining room. We removed a brick chimney about 10 years ago with plans to add a mini pantry. Such is the stuff of plans detoured by finances. Now I don’t think about that plan much anymore, unless a first-time visitor stops by and I find myself explaining why we have a cardboard wall. But I digress.

 

At the site of Farm Fest and the Gilfillan Estate, the Redwood County Historical Society wishes motorists a Happy New Year.

 

Back to that holiday décor. I photographed several examples of Christmas greetings still in place while traveling back to my native southwestern Minnesota this past Saturday. Hopefully soon spring and/or Easter themed décor replaces signs of Christmas.

 

 

At least one New Ulm business, A to Zinnias Florals & Gifts, recognizes the seasonal change to spring by offering 25 percent off on all bunnies. That would be home decorating bunnies. Not real.

 

Rudolph in a farmyard along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm about half way to Morgan.

 

TELL ME: Is it common in your area for seasonal Christmas decorations to stay up too long? Or what defines “too long?”

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling