Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Lighting up the holiday season in Faribault December 3, 2017

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Among the units in Faribault’s first-ever Parade of Lights holiday parade, this beautiful sleigh.


HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES DEFINED the weekend for me in Faribault. From ringing bells for the Salvation Army for four hours to lunching at a church craft and bake sale, to buying a Christmas tree to touring an art gallery nativity display to shopping the Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market to touring the historic Alexander Faribault house to viewing Faribault’s first lighted holiday parade, my Saturday was jam-packed. But what fun to get into the Christmas spirit right here in my community.


Crowds gather along historic Central Avenue for the Parade of Lights as the sun sets.


While vehicles were banned from the parade route, one driver headed south on Central directly toward the parade just as it began. She was directed off the roadway.


Parked on a side street just off Central, this Chavis Vacuum & Sewing Center truck awaits the start of the parade.


Local merchants showcase the holiday spirit in window displays.



Large groups of people congregate outside Burkhartzmeyer Shoes for the parade. Co-owner Bruce Burkhartzmeyer served as parade grand marshal.


I especially delighted in the 20-minute holiday parade along Central Avenue in our historic downtown. As the sun slipped into darkness Saturday evening, families and others gathered to watch trucks and cars and floats roll by in bright holiday lights. Snowmen, penguins, elves, candy canes, Christmas trees and more incorporated into the units added holiday cheer. Kids scrambled for candy tossed by those dressed in festive attire.


This classic vintage pick-up truck decorated by Brushwork Signs rated as one of my favorite parade entries.


Students from Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault march in the parade, their holiday lights blurred by my camera shooting in too-low light conditions. Still, I like the results, showing motion.


Lots of snowmen on floats, but not a flake of snow on the ground.


Faribault’s sweet version of the Polar Express.


An oversized vacuum cleaner promotes as local vacuum cleaner store.


I loved this Parade of Lights, part of Faribault’s first-ever Winterfest which began on Thursday. And based on the crowds, they shared my enthusiasm. I could sense the excitement, heard the positive comments, felt the energy of a community embracing the joy of the season.


A Faribault fire truck follows police cars as a lead in the parade.


Kids await candy tossed from those walking alongside floats.


A city of Faribault snowplow ablaze in lights.


To those who organized this event (the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, Faribault Main Street and local businesses) and to those who participated in the parade, thank you. You brought the Christmas spirit into the heart of our downtown, into our community, into the hearts of those gathered on a balmy December evening in southeastern Minnesota.


The back of the parade as it heads north along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault.


I expect the Parade of Lights to be back next year with even more entries and an even larger crowd.


Note: Check back for more stories featuring some of the holiday activities I enjoyed on Saturday in Faribault.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Northfield: Have a beer, hear a poem September 28, 2017

The patio outside Imminent Brewing Company in Northfield, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2017.


I’VE READ MY POETRY ALOUD in an historic theatre, a church, an art gallery, a lake cabin, a library, a civic center meeting room, a golf club and outdoors next to a history center and in a town square. But I’ve never read at a brewery. That will change on Saturday when I participate in the Beer Poetry Contest at Imminent Brewing as part of Northfield Poetry Festival 2017.


A flight at Turtle Stack Brewery in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I’m excited to read at this new venue on a subject—beer—I’ve not covered in past poems. I wondered if I was up to the writing challenge given my limited beer knowledge. Sure, I like craft beer and enjoy checking out craft breweries. But could I craft a poem about beer?


Taps at F-Town Brewing in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Once I sat down at the computer, words flowed like beer from a tap into a poem that is my signature down-to-earth style. And, no, I can’t pour my beer poem onto these pages. My poem releases Saturday at Imminent Brewing in downtown Northfield. And, yes, there are prizes on the line, including a growler of beer, for the winning poets selected by brewery patrons.



I love how Northfield embraces poetry from poems imprinted in sidewalks to the naming of Rob Hardy as the city’s Poet Laureate to this Poetry Festival. Prior to the brewery poetry readings (which include an open mic), area poets will read and sign books at 10:30 a.m. at Content Bookstore. And then at 1 p.m., the Northfield Public Library hosts a Youth Poetry Reading and Performance.

Youth between the ages of 18 – 20 can also participate in the 2017 Sidewalk Poetry Scavenger Hunt with a 1 p.m. Saturday, September 30, contest deadline. Click here for details.


Shipwreckt Books Publishing published Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy’s collection this year.


Even if you think you hate poetry—and I realize plenty of people still consider poetry stuffy stuff written by intellectuals who can’t relate to the common man/woman—I’d encourage you to approach poetry with an open mind. Poetry has, in many ways, changed. Not the basics of good tight writing that emerge from a poet’s soul. But the accessibility of it. You can find a poet you like, words with which you can connect. Words that move you, make you laugh, make you think, make you cry. Even in your beer.


FYI: Join me, other poets, craft beer lovers and my husband for an open mic poetry reading from 4 – 6 p.m. Saturday, September 30, at Imminent Brewing, 519 Division Street, South Unit 2, Northfield. Cheers. Please drink responsibly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


“It Happens Here” events raise awareness about domestic violence in Minnesota March 6, 2017

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FROM BEMIDJI IN THE NORTH to Albert Lea near the Iowa border, from the prairie land of Wheaton to the river bluffs of Red Wing and from the small town of Glenwood to sprawling Minneapolis, Minnesotans are coming together on Tuesday. United from rural to urban, communities are breaking the silence. They—survivors, advocates and others—are gathering to say “no more” to domestic violence.

The list of communities participating in the "It Happens Here" event is posted on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

The list of communities participating in the “It Happens Here” event is posted on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

It is part of a statewide effort, “It Happens Here: A Statewide Day to End Domestic Violence.” Events begin at noon (unless otherwise noted), including at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office. Chamber staffer Barb Larson was murdered there on December 23, 2016, by her ex-husband. HOPE Center is co-hosting the rally with the Chamber.

Gatherings across Minnesota will focus on the key areas of empathy, refuge, healing and solutions.

That starts with each of us. Individually. We must care about victims of domestic abuse and violence and about those who love them. We must care about the communities affected by domestic violence.

We must support the places that offer refuge to victims. Places likes HOPE Center provide help and hope.

We must encourage healing.

And we must work together to end domestic violence, defined as “a pattern of behavior used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.” That can take the form of physical, psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual, technological and financial abuse. One in three Minnesota women are victims of domestic violence.

One is one too many.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thoughts from Faribault in the week before Christmas December 19, 2015

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Historic buildings in downtown Faribault are decorated for the holiday season.

Historic buildings in downtown Faribault are decorated for the holiday season.

MY COMMUNITY OF FARIBAULT offers an array of holiday events ranging from theatrical productions to a holiday figure skating show, concerts and more. Each year I try to take in some of those activities not only because I enjoy them, but because it’s important to pause in the busyness of the season. We can get so wrapped up in gifts and decorations, baking and other holiday stuff that stress, rather than joy, dominates our days.

This rendition of Linus, on loan from the Faribault Woolen Mill, stood in the lobby of the Paradise Center for the Arts during the recent holiday play.

This rendition of Linus, on loan from the Faribault Woolen Mill, stood in the lobby of the Paradise Center for the Arts during the recent holiday play.

Months ago, upon learning that the Paradise Community Theatre was performing Twice the Cheer: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and A Charlie Brown Christmas in a single showing, I purchased four tickets to a Sunday matinee performance. I invited my eldest daughter and her husband to join my husband and me. Twenty-four years ago, Amber and her little sister played Baby Angels in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at our church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault. Thus, this play means something to our family.

The Paradise version wasn’t exactly like the one produced at my church. It was updated with the main characters, a family of unruly and outcast children, modernized. It worked. They were believable and memorable.

Yet, for me, the most memorable line in the play (and I can’t recall who said it) referenced Mary and Joseph as refugees. I’d never thought of them in that way and it seems particularly fitting given the world today. There are times in life when we all feel somewhat displaced, whether by circumstances or challenges or an actual physical move. Sometimes life is just plain hard.

Skaters pose for photos after presenting The Chronicles of Narnia.

Skaters pose for photos after presenting The Chronicles of Narnia.

Which is precisely why it’s helpful to occasionally escape into a make-believe world. And that I did during the recent holiday figure skating show at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault. The annual December performance is a free gift to the community. This year students presented their version of The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve never read the fantasy book series nor seen the movie, which left me clueless. Still, I could admire the young women gliding across the ice, twirling and skating with the carefree abandon of youth.

Beauty in the details of a holiday themed outdoor arrangement in downtown Faribault outside Bluebird Cakery.

Beauty in the details of a holiday themed outdoor arrangement outside Bluebird Cakery in downtown Faribault.

In these final days before Christmas, I hope you take the time to slow down, to savor the moments, to appreciate the people around you, to do something thoughtful for a “refugee” (someone in need) in your community.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling





© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Church Food: Harvest dinner at Trinity North Morristown October 9, 2015

My meal at last year's Trinity dinner, minus the bread and cranberries. I had cake for dessert, too.

My meal at a previous Trinity North Morristown dinner, minus the bread and cranberries. I had cake for dessert, too. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IT IS THE SEASON of church dinners in Minnesota, which is why I’ve deviated today from the usual Minnesota Faces series to Minnesota Food.

This Sunday, October 11, Trinity Lutheran Church North Morristown, a rural parish in western Rice County, hosts its annual fall harvest dinner. I’ve been to many church dinners and this one ranks as my favorite.

Everything served here is homemade from the garden-grown potatoes and squash prepared in the church basement to the dressing, bread and more, all served with turkey and ham.

It’s a feast. And one served in good company by rural folks who welcome and engage you in friendly conversation. Go for the people, experience and setting as much as the food.

Serving begins at 11 a.m., shortly after the 9:30 a.m. worship service, which I’d also encourage you to attend. There’s something about worshiping in a small country church surrounded by farm fields that focuses thoughts on thankfulness for the harvest and all the blessings of life.

Besides the dinner, which runs until 1 p.m., Trinity also hosts a bake goods, produce and craft sale in the back room of the church basement. More goodies from gardens and kitchens plus handcrafted items.

Cost for the dinner is a reasonable $10 for ages 13 and older; $5 for ages 6 – 12; and free for ages 5 and younger.

You will leave feeling stuffed and blessed.

FYI: Dinner planners are looking for people to peel potatoes beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday.

TELL ME, DO YOU FREQUENT church dinners and do you have a favorite?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Minnesota Faces: Steam engine tractor operator September 4, 2015

Portrait #38: Steam engine tractor operator


Portrait 38, Rice County Steam engine


The sheer size of a vintage steam engine tractor always impresses me. As do those who operate these monstrosities. Just look at the difference in scale between man and mammoth machine, this one at last year’s Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show. You better know what you’re doing when you run one of these machines.

The steam engine tractor will rumble around again this weekend at the show grounds along Minnesota State Highway 3 three miles south of Northfield.

If you appreciate vintage tractors, flea markets, farm work demonstrations (like threshing, corn shelling, plowing, sawing, etc.) and more, then you must attend the Friday – Sunday event. Click here to see the complete line-up of activities. Don’t miss the Parade of Tractors at noon daily.

I promise, you will enjoy this event. I especially like its comfortable size—big enough to offer plenty to see and do, but not too large as to overwhelm. I always see people I know here and that’s part of the fun. Visiting. Oh, and the food, is pretty darned good, too.


Minnesota Faces is a series featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Five things to do this weekend in the Faribault area July 19, 2012

FROM TEA TO TRACTORS and plenty of in-between interesting attractions, you’ll find lots to do this weekend in my region of southeastern Minnesota.

I shot this image at the Rice County Free Fair several years ago.

Already underway and running through Sunday is the Rice County Free Fair in Faribault. Evening grandstand shows include Enduro Auto Races on Thursday, an All-Star Pro Rodeo on Friday, a National Truck & Tractor Pull on Saturday and a Demolition Derby on Sunday. Besides the entertainment, you’ll want to stroll through the barns, the midway and the exhibit buildings, plus sample some fair food.

John Deere tractors galore lined up at the 2009 Rice County Steam & Gas Engine Show. I have never attended the Credit River Antique Tractor Club Show near New Prague.

In nearby Scott County, tractors take center stage (or rather space) at the annual Credit River Antique Tractor Club Show which runs from 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. Friday, July 20, through Sunday, July 22. To get there, take Exit 76 on Interstate 35 and go west on Scott County Road 2 for about 11 miles.

From a tractor parade to flea market, entertainment and more, this promises to be a family-friendly event in a beautiful rural setting. My friend Nancy Fredrickson of Lakeville tipped me off to the tractor show. Says Nancy: “It’s set up at Cedar Lake Farm Regional Park outside of New Prague where the tractors and vendors are scattered under big beautiful trees on hillsides that lead past the old barn and down to Cedar Lake shore.”

Nancy and her husband, Gordon W. Fredrickson, will be there, near the entrance, selling their collector series Farm Country Tales and If I Were a Farmer books. Readers, Nancy and Gordon are two of the finest, down-to-earth people you will meet. Plus, their rural-themed picture books are about as real and honest and authentic as they come. I highly-recommend these books to anyone interested in farming from years past.

Hanging out along Central Avenue during Faribault Car Cruise Night in May.

If classic cars are your thing, then take in, or participate in, the Faribault Car Cruise Night from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Friday in the 400 and 500 blocks of Central Avenue in the heart of historic downtown Faribault. According to the group’s Facebook page, “…if you have a cool car or truck or motorcycle, bring it down.”

The Paradise Center for the Arts theater, this photo from several years ago and the set for “South Pacific.”

Also on Friday, but in the 300 block of Central Avenue, the fractured fairy tale, “Into the Woods,” opens at 7:30 p.m. at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The Faribault theater and the Northfield Arts Guild are collaborating on the musical which continues on selected weekdays and weekends through August 5.

Betsy cuts Tacy’s hair in this snippet from a mural by artist Marian Anderson in the Maud Hart Lovelace Children’s Wing at the Blue Earth County Library in Mankato.

Finally, 40 miles away in Minneapolis and Mankato, the Betsy-Tacy Society is holding its annual convention. The organization focuses on celebrating the Betsy-Tacy children’s book series written by Mankato author Maud Hart Lovelace. I love, love, love these books about three friends growing up in Deep Valley (Mankato) in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I read the series to my young daughters two decades ago and we, even to this day, occasionally call my second daughter Tib, after Tib from the books.

It’s probably too late to get into the convention, but you can still join in on some of the fun by attending the free Betsy-Tacy Storytime Tea from 10:30 a.m. – noon Saturday at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, River Hills Mall, Mankato. A Maud Hart Lovelace interpreter will read from Betsy-Tacy and photos can be taken with Betsy and Tacy. Visitors can also shop at the Betsy-Tacy Bookfair at Barnes & Noble.

The childhood home of Maud Hart Lovelace (aka Betsy), author of the Betsy-Tacy series first published in 1940.

The houses where Lovelace (Betsy in the books) and her friend Frances “Bick” Kenney (Tacy) grew up are owned by the Betsy-Tacy Society and are open to the public. They are a must-see for any fan of Lovelace’s books, although this weekend may not be the best time to tour the homes if you prefer elbow room to crowds.

There you go. Five things you can do within 40 miles of Faribault this weekend.

What are your plans?

FYI: You probably already know this, but just in case you don’t…  By clicking on the highlighted phrases/sentences within the post, you will be directed to more detailed information about the featured events.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling