Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Memories of a long ago challenging Minnesota winter & more March 15, 2019

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I took this photo several years ago on the Minnesota Highway 19 curve just north of Vesta, my southwestern Minnesota hometown. White-out conditions can happen quickly in that wind-swept part of the state. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOME 50 YEARS AGO, getting to school each day during the winter months proved difficult. It was a particularly snowy winter with strong prairie winds drifting snow across and blocking many roadways. I lived a mile from Vesta on a crop and dairy farm. But I lived some 20 miles from the junior high school I attended in Redwood Falls.

In that late 1960s winter to remember, buses stopped driving into the country to pick up students. That pretty much covered everyone from the Vesta area. Nearly all of us lived on farms.

 

A bus I photographed near Morgan, Minnesota, in May 2018. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

If we could get into the cafe in Vesta, we could board a bus that would then travel Minnesota State Highway 19 to our school in Redwood. But getting there took effort and determination. My oldest brother and I climbed onto the John Deere tractor driven by Dad for the ride into town. And just to clarify, that tractor did not have a cab, only a canvas shield of sorts around the seat. And even though girls were banned from wearing pants at school, I slipped a pair of pants on underneath my dress.

I don’t recall additional details of those tractor rides. But I do recall the bus ride to Redwood along a state highway with snowbanks towering well above the bus. Single lanes cut into rock-hard drifts.

And then I recall the reactions of some teachers when all of us Vesta kids arrived two hours late. They were angry and told us so. Really? You try hopping on a tractor in the cold of winter to get to town to catch a bus and then ride another half hour to school. Be thankful we made it to class.

Kids now days certainly don’t face those challenges. And, if they did, they’d be tucked inside a heated tractor cab. More likely a pick-up truck. But Minnesota prairie kids still face canceled rural routes. “Buses on plowed roads only” is not uncommon during the winter in parts of Minnesota. And just yesterday, I read on the KLGR radio website out of Redwood Falls that buses in at least three schools—Lakeview, Echo Charter and, surprisingly, Redwood—would travel on paved roads only.

Muddy gravel roads and flooding can also become a problem as winter transitions toward spring. And right now Minnesota is experiencing plenty of flooding of roadways and streets.

 

The Faribault American Legion and Heritage Place businesses, a block from downtown, are surrounded by flood waters in September 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

And more. In Faribault, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

SANDBAGS: The City of Faribault will be providing to city residents sand and bags if, and when, flooding occurs. If sandbags are needed now because of a localized flooding event (like backyard flooding into a door in a walkout basement, for example) contact the Faribault Fire Department at 507-334-8773.

 

A broad view of Wabasso’s Main Street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In the small town of Wabasso (where I attended high school) in my home county of Redwood, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

The city of Wabasso recommends turning your sump pump discharge outside. This means either into your yard, the street, or on top of the snow.
The water flowing through the sanitary sewer has been elevated since this afternoon.
When the sewer is overloaded, there is a risk that residents will have sewage back up into their homes.
Please turn your sump pumps to the surface as soon as you are able.

This winter of too much snow and now a too quick snow melt with too much rain is challenging all of us. But eventually conditions will improve. And we can look back and remember the difficult winter of 2019. Like I remember that late 1960s winter of riding the John Deere tractor to catch the school bus.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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My thoughts on college choices & admission March 14, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

THE CURRENT COLLEGE ADMISSIONS SCANDAL got me thinking about the whole process of applying to colleges and the pressure on young people today to get into the best, the most elite, the place that will supposedly launch them into successful careers.

Why has this mindset evolved? Who decides if a particular college should get that “best” label?

Why is admittance to certain universities so important that parents will spend lots of money on tutoring and test prep and whatever else to supposedly increase test scores? Some students retake college entrance exams repeatedly in an attempt to bump up scores. I can only imagine the mental angst of that process. And are those scores then truly a reflection of the student’s academic abilities? Or are students setting themselves up for insurmountable challenges if they gain entrance to an especially academically rigorous college?

That’s a lot of questions. I don’t pretend to hold the answers. But I wonder why it’s come to this.

Why are some of the wealthy and powerful allegedly getting away with (until now) buying their kids’ entrances into these top-rated, highly-selective universities? Every single young person should gain admittance to any college on their own merits. But it’s no secret either, that cost excludes many qualified and talented students from colleges. Having money allows others to attend those same colleges.

So, yes, wealth can buy you into a university that is financially out of reach for many families. Yes, financial aid can offset costs, but still may not be enough to make all colleges accessible to all.

Financial talk aside, ideally students should decide on college application choices based on their goals, their aspirations, their passions, their interests. Not on what society or their parents or anyone else thinks. Maybe that so-tagged outstanding university isn’t the best choice. Maybe the best choice is a community college or a state university. Or no college at all.

We as parents, as a society, need to stop putting so much pressure on our kids to achieve. We need to stop comparing, stop interfering, stop trying to micro manage and solve problems. In challenges and failures, our kids learn, too.

We need to stop handing out participation ribbons and trophies to everyone. Kids need to learn from a young age that they’re not always going to be rewarded for simply showing up. Not everyone gets the prize. And that’s OK.

Circling this back to college choices, I hope students choose to further their educations at colleges that challenge them, stretch their thinking, prepare them for their careers, broaden their worlds and more. Not because they think they need to attend a so-called prestigious university.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Even in rural Minnesota, ag knowledge sometimes lacking October 25, 2018

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Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. Shown here for illustration only.

 

ARE WE A GENERATION away from losing the farm? Not in the literal sense. But in the sense of understanding agriculture.

Do you know, do your children know, do your grandchildren know the sources of ingredients in food and other products?

A recent test shows me that, even here in rural Minnesota some 50 miles south of Minneapolis, people are not particularly knowledgeable. Granted, this was no scientific study. And it was limited in scope. But results were enough to make me realize that we could do a better job of educating our young people about agriculture. Even those who live in a city like Faribault surrounded by corn and soybean fields.

 

A fest-goer attempts to match animals and plants to products I set out.

 

How did I reach this conclusion? Well, I pulled together several farm-themed matching and other games for a recent kids’ fall fest at my church. One of those required players to match farm animals and plants to five products. Only one boy successfully completed the task as did some, but not all, adults.

 

Registered Holsteins photographed at a Faribault area farm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I laid pictures of the following on a table: cows, sheep, pigs, corn and soybeans.

Then I set out a can of cranberry sauce, a box of Velveeta cheese, a brush, a bottle of Thousand Island salad dressing and a wool blanket.

The goal was to match the image and product.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Shepherd’s Way Farms.

 

As you might guess, the sheep and blanket, cows and cheese proved easy matches.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a cornfield.

 

But not the other three. Can you figure it out? I’ll help. The first ingredient on the dressing label is soybean oil. The second ingredient on the cranberry label is high fructose corn syrup. That leaves the brush. Some brush bristles are made from pig hair.

I expected the game might challenge little kids too young to understand what comes from where or what ingredients are in our food. But I was surprised by mid to upper elementary kids and adults who got the matches wrong.

Does it matter? I believe so. Our kids and grandkids, even us adults, need to be knowledgeable about food and product sources. We need to understand that our food and more doesn’t just come from the store or some online source. It comes from the land, directly or indirectly, grown or raised by farmers. When we realize that, we begin to value and appreciate rather than simply consume.

 

In the window of Ruf Acres Market in historic downtown Faribault, egg cartons promoting eggs from Graise Farm. The eggs are sold at this market and elsewhere in the area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ASIDE FROM THIS EXPERIENCE, I’ve seen strong efforts locally to educate consumers about agriculture. Leading the way in my community is Tiffany Tripp of Graise Farm. She and her husband raise grass-fed animals in a sustainable environment, according to their farm website. I’ve seen Tiffany out and about selling and promoting locally-grown/raised. She is currently co-coordinating efforts to market locally-grown/raised/sourced products under a Cannon Valley Grown label. What a great idea. I love her enthusiasm and that of others who recognize the value of what is grown and raised right here in southeastern Minnesota.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shipwrecked & blessed at VBS August 13, 2018

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When we feel lonely, worry, struggle, do wrong and feel powerless, Jesus rescues. That was the focus of the Vacation Bible School program, Shipwrecked, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, last week.

 

ASK A CLASSROOM of two dozen kids to sit still in silence for 60 seconds on a summer evening and the feat seems impossible. But the students did just that, much to my surprise.

It proved a rare minute of stillness in 10 hours of bible stories, crafting, playing, snacking, singing and a short video time during last week’s Vacation Bible School at my church. I volunteered as a crew leader for five kids—four boys and one girl. And, as you might rightly guess, I had a few spirited and active boys. That they all remained still for a single minute impressed me.

 

A bible verse was reinforced during each evening of VBS as part of the Shipwrecked theme.

 

It took me about 30 seconds, though, to still my mind from worry that one of them would act out and disrupt our reflection on Psalm 46:10—Be still, and know that I am God. It’s an important bible verse to remember in today’s high tech and busy world. We all—kids and adults—need to find time for quiet. Put down the phone. Get off social media. Turn off the TV. Disengage from the video game. Just be.

For five evenings, I had the joy of just being with my kids. I call them “my kids” because, by the end of the week, I felt a closeness to them that comes from togetherness. We bonded as we talked, shared, laughed, sang and more. I now know more about them and some about their families. It’s amazing what kids will tell you.

 

One of my boys thanked me for leading our Team 4 Jesus crew with a message in a bottle on the last night of VBS. How sweet was that?

 

I shared my gummy treats at snack time (because I don’t like gummies), asked my kids to sign nine thank you cards (which they did without complaint), parceled out beads for a bracelet written in Morse code… In turn, they opened and closed a drawstring bag for me, held doors for me, slid a chair across the floor for me to sit on… They were lovingly compassionate toward their leader with the broken wrist. Anyone who claims youth today are self-centered don’t know my kids. They showed me such care and love.

The interesting thing about all of this is that I wasn’t even supposed to be with these kids. Initially, I was assigned to be the VBS photographer, a job I’ve done in the past. But then I broke my wrist and had subsequent surgery. There would be no running around with a camera for 10 exhausting hours photographing all aspects of VBS.

I was exactly where I needed to be last week—shipwrecked with this great group of first graders to fourth graders. To praise God with them, to learn about Jesus with them, and, yes, even to be still with them for 60 seconds blessed me.

FYI: Click here to see the VBS program, Shipwrecked, from Group Publishing. Love this publishing company’s VBS curriculum. Next year we’re doing the Roar! program.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Showcasing the art of Faribault area students in (the) Paradise March 21, 2018

 

ON THE SECOND FLOOR of the Paradise Center for the Arts, along a horseshoe of hallways and inside a classroom space, the artwork of Faribault area students is showcased during a month-long Student Exhibition.

 

Art by Faribault Middle School students.

 

By Zabdy Espinal, Faribault Middle School seventh grader.

 

 

I toured the exhibit recently with camera in hand, admiring the talents of kindergartners through 12th graders.

 

By Faribault Middle School sixth grader Avery Dressen.

 

By Ava Nelson, seventh grader at Faribault Middle School.

 

A potter works down the hallway from art that splashes vivid hues onto a wall.

 

From bold to subdued,

 

By Anzal Abdi of Roosevelt Elementary School.

 

By Ruby H. from Nerstrand Elementary School.

 

By Gracie Molden, Faribault Lutheran School seventh grader.

 

from symbolic to wildly creative, the variety of art in this annual show always impresses me.

 

Each piece of art is tagged with the artist’s name and school.

 

I consider not only the creative minds that drew and painted and shaped these pieces, but the honor of having that work on public view. What an incredible way to encourage young people in pursuing, or simply enjoying, art.

 

Portraits by Lincoln Elementary School third graders Tyrese Monahan, left, and Michael Chappuis, right.

 

 

Art by Cannon River STEM School students, Megan, left to right, Abby and Carrie.

 

Can you imagine the pride Avery or Ava or Tyrese or Anzal or any one of the many students feels when seeing their work, their art, displayed in a community art center?

 

Prince portrait by Jada Fairbanks, senior at Faribault Area Learning Center.

 

These young people are our future. We want them to value art. They are our future graphic designers, our potters, our photographers, our painters, our book illustrators, our patrons of the arts.

 

By Dania Soto, Roosevelt Elementary School.

 

Classroom turned art gallery for the Student Exhibition.

 

Showcased on a window is the art of Faribault Lutheran School first grader Frankie Spicer with other student art in the background.

 

For today, they are our student artists, developing their skills through the guidance and encouragement of teachers and parents. And a community art center that understands and values the creativity of young people.

 

FYI: The Student Exhibition features the works of students from Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Nerstrand Elementary Schools, Faribault Lutheran School, Faribault Middle School, Cannon River STEM School, Faribault Area Learning Center and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind. The show closes on April 14.

Check back for a post on clay artist Layl McDill whose work is showing in the main gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Student art was photographed with permission of the PCA. Artwork is copyrighted by the individual artists.

 

Just an important reminder… January 17, 2018

 

Graphic courtesy of the Faribault Police Department Facebook page, via Peter van Sluis.

 

No need to wonder about the power of this movie December 14, 2017

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IF EVER THERE’S a current movie everyone should see, it’s “Wonder.”

And for me to state that is noteworthy. “Wonder” is the first movie I’ve viewed in a theater since 2011. Yes, I really have not been inside a cinema since I last saw “The Help,” another memorable movie, six years ago. Most movies don’t interest me. Too much violence and genres that don’t appeal to me. I prefer movies with a message, with a purpose other than to simply entertain and with content that moves me.

“Wonder” fits those criteria.

Based on the New York Times bestselling book by R. J. Palacio, “Wonder” tells the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman, born with facial deformities and entering school for the first time after being homeschooled. As you would expect, Auggie faces incredible challenges, including bullying.

This film shows the real-life psychological harm of peer pressure and bullying to individuals and to families and then presents multiple ways people address it. And not always in good ways, just like in real life.

“Wonder” should be required viewing for every child, teen and adult. The book was assigned reading at my eighth grade great nephew’s Minnesota school, followed by a class field trip to see the movie. I applaud educators like those in Tristan’s school who realize the value in this film as a teaching tool and as an opportunity to open up conversations on differences, bullying, peer pressure, kindness, compassion and more.

As a survivor of junior high school bullying and even bullying as an adult, I understand this issue all too well. I refuse to tolerate bullying (and abuse) on any level. “Wonder” champions strength to rise and to overcome, making it one powerful movie.

 

FYI: If you haven’t read about the recent bullying of a young boy in a Tennessee school, then click here and read Keaton’s story. It breaks my heart. Decades ago, this was me. Crying. Suffering. Unable to stop the bullying. I was not bullied in the same ways as Keaton. But the bullying I experienced in junior high school hurt me. Deeply. Just like Keaton. This behavior needs to stop.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling