Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Finding the perfect imperfect Christmas tree December 6, 2021

A family searches for just the right tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

TYPICALLY, WE DON’T BUY our Christmas tree until later in December. But this year we purchased ours the day after Thanksgiving. Why? Because I didn’t want to risk Ken’s Christmas Trees running out of trees.

Like so many other items (remember the run on toilet paper?), there’s a supposed shortage of Christmas trees. True? I’m uncertain. But the fact is that Faribault has far fewer places to purchase real trees than just a few years ago. Faribault Garden Center closed. Farmers Seed and Nursery closed. And Donahue’s Greenhouse stopped selling Christmas trees a while back when they opted to open only in spring and summer.

Of course, trees can still be found in multiple locations in and around Faribault. But none of the trees are quite like Ken’s. If you prefer old-fashioned/Charlie Brown style, this is your go-to place. I prefer imperfect to perfect, short-needled to long and short to tall.

Customers flock to Ken’s tree lot post Thanksgiving. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

So on the day after Thanksgiving, Randy and I headed to Ken’s Christmas Trees in his pop-up parking lot location at 1407 Fourth Street Northwest across from Arby’s in Faribault. When we arrived, the place was buzzing with customers. When I saw a tree I liked, I asked for it to be set aside while I continued my search. I wasn’t about to risk losing my perfect tree to a perfect stranger. In the end, that first tree made it atop our van.

That’s Ken, far right, walking towards us. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

We chatted a bit with Ken Mueller, who has operated this seasonal business since 1988. The tree lot has been in existence since 1939 under a different name, different locations. Randy knows Ken from back whenever. He’s a down-to-earth, hardworking guy with a big smile and a friendly attitude. Perfect for vending trees. Ken shared that he raised his prices this year (we paid $35, his lowest price) to offset increased costs of hauling all those trees from Up North to southern Minnesota. He’s bringing in 630 trees in four loads. That may sound like a lot, but not when you draw customers far and wide who are looking for trees like Ken’s.

You’ll find more than just trees here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Besides trees, customers will also find porch pots, wreaths, garlands, evergreen gnomes and dogwood.

Choosing a tree… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Our tree isn’t inside the house yet. This early in December seems too early to bring it into the warmth and heat. But soon. When I untangle and layer the lights, hang vintage and homemade ornaments, and then drape the branches in strands of tinsel, I’ll flash back to the Christmas trees of childhood. The Charlie Brown trees. So imperfectly perfect.

Folksy signage adds to the charm. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

FYI: Ken’s Christmas Trees is open from 2 – 7 pm Monday-Friday; 9 am – 6 pm Saturday; and 11 am – 6 pm Sunday.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault celebrates Winterfest December 3, 2021

A city of Faribault snowplow in a past Winterfest parade. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

THROUGHOUT MINNESOTA, including in Faribault, December brings holiday and winter-themed events. In a typical year, I’d embrace all of these celebrations. But, like last December, we are still very much in the middle of a pandemic. And, for me, that means skipping most crowded events. Even those which are outdoors. If people masked and were mostly (all) vaccinated, I would feel more comfortable. But that isn’t happening. At least not locally.

Crowds gather along historic Central Avenue as the sun set prior to a past Parade of Lights. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

With that as a disclaimer, I want to share that Faribault is celebrating Winterfest, which began on Thursday and continues through Saturday. It’s a wonderful celebration with a wide range of activities. And I expect because COVID-19 canceled Winterfest in 2020, lots of folks will join in this year’s festivities. I encourage you, if you attend, to remember that our county is still in a high community transmission rate for COVID and to take care to protect yourself and others.

The dining room table set for the holidays during the Christmas open house at the Alexander Faribault house. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

Friday, December 3:

  • Horse-drawn wagon rides along Central Avenue
  • Shattuck-St. Mary’s snow sculpting by Burkhartzmeyer Shoes (weather permitting)
At the 2018 Sleds on Central Vintage Snowmobile Show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2018)

Saturday, December 4:

  • Sleds on Central Vintage Snowmobile Show, 1 – 4 pm, 400 block of Central Avenue (food and beverages available for purchase)
  • Fireworks, launched near the viaduct, 5:30 pm
  • Parade of Lights on Central Avenue between 1st and 6th Streets, 5:50 pm
  • Street Dance with music by Fender Bender, 400 block of Central after the parade (food and beverages available for purchase)
  • Elf, The Musical, 7:30 pm at the Paradise Center for the Arts (also showing at 2 pm Sunday, December 5, and other dates; check the Paradise website) Masks recommended per CDC guidelines.
Last year’s Holiday Tree Display. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2021)

Also check out the Faribault Parks & Rec Department Holiday Tree Display in Central Park, now through December 9.

#

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas & beyond at Apple Creek Orchard December 2, 2021

A gnome greets shoppers outside Apple Creek Boutique. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

TIS THE SEASON…to buy locally-grown apples.

Apples and wreaths for sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Saturday afternoon Randy and I aimed west out of Faribault to Apple Creek Orchard, 5524 185th Street West, for a bag of apples. But we found much more. We found Christmas and, more importantly, the Christmas spirit.

A snapshot of the boutique. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

This wasn’t just about picking up a bag of apples and then leaving. This was about lingering and engaging in a festive setting. This was about chatting with co-owner Tami Theis, who welcomed us with warmth. I felt like more than just a customer. I felt valued. Appreciated. As if I was talking to a friend. And that gives me reason to return (beyond just apples).

Honey (and maple syrup) from local producers is sold in the shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Tami and her husband, Kevin, are new owners of the orchard purchased from Dan Ableman. During this visit and a previous one, Tami expressed her appreciation for Dan’s knowledge and help as they learn the ins and outs of operating an orchard.

Holiday wreaths for sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

But the couple is also infusing new ideas into a family-owned and operated agri-entertainment business. Wagon rides. Apple slinging. A corn maze. Photo props. All were a part of their fall offerings. And now they’ve transitioned to Christmas.

A gnome peeks from behind a row of Christmas trees at Apple Creek Orchard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

As we entered the farmyard, I noticed immediately the Christmas trees fronting the poleshed style store. I had no idea Apple Creek sold trees. They do—Canadian fir at $10/foot—plus seasonal pots, wreaths and garlands.

An example of Geralyn Thelen’s beautiful fused glass art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

And inside the boutique, which, yes, includes refrigeration units filled with bagged apples, there’s more. Clothing. Seasonal décor. Honey, Maple syrup. Gift boxes of local goods. And, on this Saturday, the fused glass art of Northfield artist Geralyn Thelen, who set up shop for the day. (She’s hosting a holiday open house from 10 am – 4 pm December 3-5 at her home studio, 2001 Lincoln Street South, Northfield. Guests are required to wear face masks. If you can’t attend, you are welcome to schedule an appointment. Call 507.581.1239.)

This Santa “talks” and moves. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

A life-sized animated Santa, standing near a Christmas tree and against a sleigh backdrop, adds to the holiday setting. The real Santa visits the orchard on Saturday, December 11, in a “Cocoa with Santa” by appointment event from 10 am – 4 pm. The cost is $20 for a 15-minute visit and photo with Santa. (Register on the website.)

Cider, coffee and cocoa are available from the beverage bar. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)
I set my cider down to take photos outside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Tami set up a Hot Cocoa Bar inside the store, with offerings of not only cocoa, but also coffee and homemade apple cider. I highly-recommend the cider. I stepped outside to sip my beverage while perusing the trees corralled in portable fencing and seasonal décor staged among straw bales. The cider, hand-pressed at the orchard and made with Tami’s special recipe (cinnamon, nutmeg and oranges), was probably the best I’ve ever tasted. I stepped back inside to tell her that. Eventually, the Theises will sell their cider with Tami’s recipe included.

Fronting the store, holiday decor and that welcoming gnome. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

And come June 2022, if all goes as planned with contractors, the couple will open The Blossom event venue. A place for gatherings—wedding receptions, holiday parties, corporate events, graduation parties (two Theis kids will be the first) and other celebrations.

In keeping with their agri-entertainment goals, the Theises are also adding a wiffle ball field, which Tami says her husband is especially excited about. They’ll also offer homemade pizza, donuts, caramels and that cider I savored so much. I look forward to trying some or all. I fully expect the Theis family to succeed in their endeavor. They are a team. Committed. Enthusiastic. Hard-working. Friendly. They bring something new to the Faribault area. Already, Apple Creek Orchard is drawing customers from all over, including the metro. The Theis family is providing experiences, which create memories and bond families. All in a beautiful rural setting.

#

FYI: Apple Creek Orchard is currently open from 9 am – 6 pm Thursday-Sunday. Check the orchard Facebook page for updates.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Merry Christmas, dear ones December 24, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
My granddaughter looks at Baby Jesus in a Nativity set up in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

CHRISTMAS 2020. What can I write that you haven’t already read? This year’s celebration will be much different as we adjust our plans due to COVID-19. Randy and I will gather with our eldest, her husband and our two darling grandchildren here in southeastern Minnesota. We won’t see our second daughter and her husband and our son living in Madison, Wisconsin, four hours away.

Is it disappointing? Of course, it is. We want to see everyone, to be together as a family. But we recognize that it’s best if we keep our distance. We don’t want to throw our caution of the past 10 months out the window, especially this close to vaccination. I remind myself of that often. And I remind myself also, that I still have family with whom I can celebrate. Nothing beats time with the grandchildren to shift your focus from what you’re missing to the joy right there beside you.

I know too many of you will be missing loved ones—lost this year to COVID or many other causes. I’m sorry for your losses. It hurts.

An historic Nativity in Faribault (edited photo). Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Yet, in all of these challenges, one thing remains unchanged about Christmas. And that is the birth of Christ. As a Christian, I reflect on this sweet baby come to earth with a plan of redemption. If not for my faith, I would struggle to face life’s challenges. That is my truth.

As I celebrate Christmas, I wish you the blessings of peace, love and joy. You, dear readers, bring me much joy by appreciating me and the work I do here on this blog. I value you. Your insights. Your kindness. Your friendship. Your care.

A handcrafted ornament sold at Fleur de Lis in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Merry Christmas, dear friends!

Audrey

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gingersnaps for Mom December 23, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Gingersnaps

CINNAMON, GINGER AND CLOVES scent my kitchen on the first afternoon of winter as sun streams bright through the southern window.

Christmas music plays on KTIS.

And I stand at the peninsula, rounding dough into walnut-sized balls before rolling the orbs in granulated sugar.

Each holiday season I bake gingersnaps. For my mom. They are a favorite of hers. But this year, although I am still baking the cookies, Mom won’t enjoy them.

She lives 120 miles away in a southwestern Minnesota nursing home, where she is in hospice. Her appetite is minimal. Even last year when I dropped off homemade gingersnaps around Christmas time, she didn’t eat them. Upon a return visit, I took the stale cookies back home with me and tossed them. Mom never was one to throw away food.

Now, as I shape and bake dough and pull crinkled gingersnaps from the oven, thoughts of Mom distract me. Earlier I’d forgotten to add molasses to the mix as my mind wandered away from the kitchen.

I wasn’t baking these cookies for Mom. Yet I was. I baked them to honor her, to celebrate her, to remind myself how blessed I’ve been to have such a caring, loving and kind mother. I told her that recently, thanking her in a loving goodbye letter. Phoning her is not an option. Nor is visiting due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions. I’m sort of OK with that, recognizing from an intellectual perspective the need to keep care center residents as safe as possible.

This has proven a difficult year for our seniors living in long-term care centers with too many dying from COVID. And the separation from loved ones has taken a toll. I miss Mom. But this is not about me. This is about her. That’s what I try to remember when my focus shifts, when the scent of old-fashioned gingersnaps fills the house and tears edge my eyes.

TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS:

If you are feeling alone this Christmas, experiencing the recent loss of a loved one, enduring separation from those you love or struggling, you are not alone. I hope you can reach a place of peace, perhaps in the cinnamon and ginger scent of cookies or a tradition or memory that links you to the one (s) you love and miss.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas joy along US Highway 14 December 22, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
The joy of Christmas banners McNeilus Steel, Inc., Dodge Center, Minnesota.

HOLIDAY DECORATIONS SEND a message, lift spirits, bring joy. This year, more than ever.

Santa and his reindeer fly across the side of a McNeilus building.

I appreciate every homeowner, every city, every church, every nonprofit and every business that takes the time and effort to create Christmas joy via festive decorations.

McNeilus, a 70-plus-year-old family-owned business centered in Dodge Center, has four locations.

McNeilus Steel, Inc., headquartered in Dodge Center, uses its sprawling complex of buildings as a canvas for holiday art.

More holiday joy at McNeilus.

I photographed the company’s holiday decorations recently while traveling along US Highway 14. The business sits right next to the busy highway. I had to focus and shoot quickly from the passenger seat as the decorations flashed past our van.

Stretching along another building, more Christmas decor.

What a gift from this family-owned full-line steel distributor and processor to the thousands of motorists who pass by daily.

Another view of Santa and his reindeer.

During a year that’s challenged and stretched us in so many ways due to COVID-19, I’m grateful for scenes like these that share the Christmas spirit in such a visual, public way.

TELL ME: Have you spotted holiday decorations that bring you an added measure of joy this Christmas? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Get in the holiday spirit with “Christmas in Faribault 2020” concert this evening December 19, 2020

Courtesy promo art

REMINDER: Only hours from now, my southern Minnesota community’s first-ever virtual community holiday concert, “Christmas in Faribault 2020,” debuts at 7 pm. If you missed my post about this event earlier this week, click here for the backstory.

I’m excited to view/hear this concert featuring a wide range of talented local musicians. Like the Benson Family Singers, Fourth Avenue Four Barbershop Quartet, Gail Kaderlik, Cindy Glende, Alberto Arriaza and many others.

You can tune in to see (or hear) the concert on Faribault Community Public Television (Spectrum/ Charter 181 or Consolidated 10), KDHL (AM 920) radio, or YouTube. The YouTube option will remain open to watch anytime.

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army in a previous December. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

The purpose of the concert, according to lead organizer the Rev. Greg Ciesluk of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, is to lift our spirits and to help those in need. “Concert goers” are encouraged to donate to the Salvation Army via:

1) Giving at Salvation Army red kettles.

2) Mailing checks to: Salvation Army of Rice County, 617 3rd Ave. N.W., Faribault, MN. 55021

3) Giving online via the Salvation Army North, Faribault and donate.

Enjoy, dear readers. I am honored to be part of this event via holiday photos I’ve taken in Faribault and which are incorporated into the concert. Thank you to all who contributed to this event. It takes a team to make this happen. What a wonderful community of caring people who have come together to uplift us.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Christmas message from Fourth Avenue UMC December 18, 2020

Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

BEAUTIFUL, HISTORIC CHURCHES ABOUND in Faribault. I’ve been inside many, but not all. I appreciate the craftsmanship, the materials, the art, the essence of aged houses of worship.

I appreciate, too, the deep meaning these churches hold for many. The baptisms. The weddings. The confirmations. The funerals. And regular worship. Plus those most blessed of days to celebrate. Christmas and Easter.

For me, church is also about community and family and love and care and so much more. Above all, faith.

Front doors to the church feature paper hearts to show love and support during the pandemic.

Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church has, like many other churches in Faribault, brought the community together, most notably at its annual Community Christmas Dinner. That didn’t happen this year due to COVID-19.

Pastor Greg Ciesluk has focused his community outreach this December on coordinating a virtual concert, “Christmas in Faribault 2020,” which is showing at 7 pm Saturday, December 19, on YouTube and local community television. I’m honored to be part of this project via contributing still photos pulled from my blog posts.

I first met Greg in the fall of 2018 when he joined a team working to clear fallen limbs, trees, branches and debris from my friend’s yard following a tornado. Greg lived nearby and showed up, as good neighbors do, to help. Randy and I have been friends with him since.

A COVID-19 Christmas message from Fourth Avenue UMC.

I appreciate his enthusiasm and energy, his care for others (including us and our family), his deep faith, his love for and involvement in our community, his willingness to serve and more. And I also appreciate the messages Greg posts on the sign board that stands on the corner outside his church along Fourth Avenue. I hold a fondness for messages like these. Electronic message signs do not appeal to me. I’m old school like that.

I love the beautiful wreaths, surrounded by hearts and crosses.

In this year of COVID-19, I appreciated Greg’s latest thought. He’s right. Not even a global pandemic can overtake the meaning, spirit and joy of Christmas.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas at the hardware store December 17, 2020

Ace Hardware in Faribault, photographed at dusk on December 5.

WHEN WE SHOP at the local hardware store, it’s typically to pick up necessities for a home repair. Like last Sunday, Randy ran downtown to Ace to purchase a toilet handle operating system. I can’t even count the number of times he’s replaced this as Faribault’s incredibly hard water corrodes the metal piece inside the tank. My apologies to all you plumbing knowledgeable people for that amateurish explanation. But it’s frustrating. This time Randy opted for plastic.

Ace carries so much more than plumbing and other basic hardware necessities. There’ s a Hallmark card shop inside the store. And a paint center. And everything you need for grilling, including the Big Green Egg, although Randy will never deviate from his charcoal-fired Weber. There are tools and slippers and novelty gift items and…

When I photographed the lot on December 5, there was a wide selection of trees.

If we needed a Christmas tree, we could find that at the hardware store, too. Real trees lined a makeshift tree lot outside the front door when I stopped by on December 5. Currently all live trees, spruce tops, dogwood and porch pots are priced at 50 percent off. While supplies last. And, yes, we’ve been known to wait until just days before Christmas to purchase our tree. Not this year, though. Plus I’ve found my go-to source for Charlie Brown trees at Ken’s Christmas Trees.

The festive Christmas tree lot at Ace offers more than just trees.

As I walked away from Ace Hardware, I paused to photograph the blow-up Nativity scene above the store entry. I’ve seen Santas and snowmen and every other type of outdoor holiday inflatable, but never the Holy Family. How uplifting to view this little family staged there, in a place of honor, as customers hurried in and out of the hardware store.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Virtual Faribault Christmas concert aims to uplift, help others December 16, 2020

Carolers perform at the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Christmas Walk in 2016. The community event, like so many other holiday activities, did not happen this year in Faribault due to COVID-19. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

AS I WRITE, CHRISTMAS MUSIC plays in the background on Twin Cities Christian radio station KTIS, inspiring me, uplifting me, encouraging me with faith-based songs.

In a typical year, I would sing Advent and Christmas hymns with my faith family in church. But now, during COVID-19, I’m watching services online. I feel grateful for this technology. But it’s not the same. I miss the in-person connection, the simply being there.

Inside the sanctuary of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

Greg Ciesluk, pastor of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, was experiencing a similar feeling of loss. A self-proclaimed “music person” actively involved in the Faribault community, he considered how he could restore some Christmas joy. Cancellation of the Faribault High School choir’s annual performance—an 81-year tradition—at the local Rotary Club’s Christmas meal prompted Ciesluk to think creatively. (He’s a Rotary member.) The result: An hour-long virtual Christmas concert featuring local musicians.

A horse-drawn wagon gives rides in historic downtown Faribault during a past holiday celebration. Events like this didn’t happen this year. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

“Christmas in Faribault 2020” (type that into your search engine) debuts on YouTube at 7 pm Saturday, December 19. The concert can also be viewed on Faribault Community Television.

In Decembers past, Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church has hosted a community Christmas dinner. At a previous dinner, guests were invited to take poinsettias home, like this woman I photographed several years ago at the church. Because of the pandemic, this dinner was canceled. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Ciesluk promises a wonderful, uplifting experience in a “joyful, soulful and invigorating” concert.

From well-known local musicians like Doug Madow and Dr. Michael Hildebrandt to Beau Chant to a children’s group from Christ Lutheran Church and many more, including performances by Ciesluk, the virtual concert features pre-recorded songs submitted to Fox Video Productions for production.

Volunteers at Fourth Avenue UMC serve food at a past Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But a desire to uplift the community in this Christmas of canceled concerts isn’t the sole goal behind those putting together this virtual musical event. Organizers are encouraging viewers to donate to the Salvation Army as “a way to show God’s compassion and concern for those in need,” says Ciesluk. All donations stay in Rice County.

Ringing bells for the Salvation Army. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Give directly at red kettle donation sites in the county; via checks mailed to the Salvation Army of Rice County, 617 3rd Ave. N.W., Faribault, MN. 55021; or through an online link that will be included in the video. The concert will feature a spot from the Salvation Army. Sheriff Troy Dunn, who heads the county’s Salvation Army outreach, is serving as emcee.

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army in the past. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

Randy and I have, for many years, rung bells for the Salvation Army. It’s been a joyful, humbling experience. But this holiday season, because of COVID-19, we decided given our high risk age status, not to volunteer. Yet, I am helping in another way. Ciesluk asked if he could incorporate holiday/Christmas photos I’ve taken around Faribault through the years into “Christmas in Faribault 2020.” I agreed. Like him and his team of organizers and musicians, I am happy to help bring joy to others during an especially challenging year.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling