Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Winter in Minnesota: Of snow, flannel, chili, soup & more November 18, 2022

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We use an assortment of shovels for snow removal, to scrape, scoop and push snow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2021)

ALTHOUGH THE CALENDAR is about a month out from the official start of winter, we in Minnesota are already in the throes of the season. Cold and snow define winter here and we have both already. Too early, I say.

The snow boots I wear are warm, practical and fashionable. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2020)

Three consecutive days this week found me shoveling snow from the sidewalk and driveway. I allowed Randy the honor of shoveling the first snowfall of the winter. But I figured I best do my part, so I laced on my warm winter boots and headed outdoors on the second day of shovellable snow.

Isaac, waiting to head outdoors to shovel snow at my house in January 2021. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2021)

Thirty-five minutes to the north, my nearly 4-year-old grandson bundled into his snowpants, winter coat, mittens, hat and boots to clear snow from the driveway with his small plastic shovel. As only a child can feel, Isaac was, his mom said, “Loving the snow!” With an exclamation point. I encouraged him to head south and shovel Grandma and Grandpa’s driveway. He never showed.

And so I am accepting that winter is upon us. That means replacing the cotton bed sheets with warm flannel sheets, layering up (inside and out), wearing lots of flannel, cozying under a fleece throw with a good book in the evening, delaying rolling out of bed in the morning because the house is still too cold. The thermostat is programmed to drop to 62 degrees at night, up to 67 during the day, and then bump a notch to 68 in the evening.

Photographed on the door of a Northfield business in April 2022. Shoppers are encouraged to stomp the snow from their boots and shoes. And, yes, we get snow well into April here in Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

Staying updated on the weather has become even more important, mostly to determine how bad the roads will be (and when to shovel). Have plows been out sanding and salting? How’s the visibility? Watch those bridge decks and ramps for slippery spots. Slow down. Take it easy. Spin-outs and crashes were a regular part of this week’s vocabulary.

Inside my house, a few changes are happening, too, as I adapt to winter. Laundry, which I typically clip to outdoor clotheslines, now drapes a drying rack. Sheets and towels go in the dryer. Already I miss the fresh scent of linens dried by the sun.

Chicken Wild Rice Soup, one of my favorites, served at a fundraiser in St. Peter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Wednesday I cooked up a big pot of chili. I crave chili and soup in the winter. I start my morning with a bowl of old-fashioned, fruit-filled oatmeal, the same as always, no matter the season. That is a constant, just like my need to write. Winter doesn’t alter my writing. But it does limit my outdoor photography. Even though I own combo mittens/gloves with the mitten end flipping open to expose half of my fingers (thanks, Randy, for one of the best gifts ever), I take fewer photos in winter. I don’t like freezing my fingertips, just like I don’t enjoy shoveling snow.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Time for kindness April 4, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WE ALL HOLD WITHIN US the ability to express kindness. That needn’t come in a grandiose gesture, a well-thought-out plan. Rather, we can show kindness in random opportunities presented in everyday life.

Take such an opportunity several days ago as I waited with bread and a pound of butter in a grocery check out line. Behind me, a mom and her daughter stood, too, with a carton of strawberries. Ahead of us, a clerk scanned a young woman’s bottle of salad dressing, jar of spaghetti sauce, bag of meatballs and a hefty pack of bottled water. All of the items went into a shopping cart, which the 20-something customer would need to remove before my purchases went therein. If you don’t pay 25 cents to get a cart before entering the store, you don’t leave with a cart.

As I paid for my two items, I observed the young woman wrestling the case of water from the cart while simultaneously clutching the other purchases in the crook of her left arm. I envisioned the jar dropping, spaghetti sauce and glass splattering, shattering across the floor.

“Here, I can help,” I offered, reaching toward the clutch of groceries in her arm. She smiled, released her purchases to me and grabbed the package of water. “I’ll follow you,” I said, trailing her out the store. I limped and struggled to keep pace while dealing with back and leg pain. But I made it to her van at the far end of the parking lot and waited while she opened the door, placed the water inside, then reclaimed her other groceries. “Thank you,” she said, then repeated, her face flashing a wide smile.

“I’m happy to help,” I said and wished her a good day.

I don’t share this story to applaud myself. I share this story because it’s an example of how a stop at the grocery store gave me the opportunity to be kind. I could have chosen to simply watch the young woman struggle with her groceries. But I didn’t. I opted to help, to take the extra time to do what was right. I hope that you, too, find such moments to reach out with acts of kindness. In today’s chaotic and tension-filled world, where disagreements and meanness seem all too prevalent, we need to connect, to help one another. Whenever we can. However we can.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your stories of simple kindnesses extended or received. Let’s celebrate the goodness in this world.

 

 

 

BONUS KINDNESS STORY: Days after I finished this post and before it published, I noticed my 80-year-old neighbor outside her car parked at the end of her inclined driveway. I was about to grab my shoes and head over to see if something was wrong. But before I could do that, a motorist stopped his car, backed and parked next to her car. Then I watched as a tall and lean young man pulled my neighbor’s recycling bin up her snow-covered, icy driveway to her garage. I doubt she knew him. He was just some guy passing by who saw a person in need and stopped to help. What a fine example of random kindness. This is what I’m talking about, spontaneous giving because we care about each other as human beings.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo moment: Two ladies buying squash November 29, 2016

two-ladies-buying-squash-photo-323

 

AS A PHOTOGRAPHER, I strive to document, to tell a story, to record moments and emotions, to photograph people and places and events. Succinctly stated, I desire to present life. As it is.

Nothing gives me greater satisfaction in photography than capturing candid memorable moments. Yes, I take posed photos. But I prefer not to. So if I’m cruising with my camera and someone alerts others to my presence, I typically stop photographing. I want to be unseen. Just there. Blending in. Not always easy to do with a bulky Canon DSLR camera slung around my neck. But I try.

Recently I was rewarded with one of those prize shots while photographing at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, in Jordan. A moment of everyday life right there, outside the signature yellow building along US Highway 169.

Two elderly women were shopping for squash as if it was the most important thing in the world on a weekday afternoon in October. And to them, it was important.

I had one chance to photograph them. I love the results—the joy and concentration on their faces as they peruse the squash. I notice the clothing. I can’t recall the last time I saw a woman wearing a kerchief. There are details, too, of oversized purse (not bag) and cane in hand.

I note also the care the merchandiser takes in marketing the squash with historical information, flavor notations and graphics.

The subject of this image is not extraordinary, newsworthy or remarkable. It’s simply ordinary. Everyday. Two ladies buying squash. And therein lies its value to me as a Minnesota photographer.

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Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store is now closed for the season and reopens in time for Memorial Day weekend.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Life through his lens June 5, 2015

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Portrait #26: Dan Traun

Photographer Dan Traun. Photo by Cynthia Traun. Visit Cyndie's photo blog at cyndietraun.com

Photographer Dan Traun. Photo by Cynthia Traun. Visit Cyndie’s photo blog at cyndietraun.com

One of the best ways to improve one’s photography is to study the work of others.

And since discovering Minnesota photo blogger/photographer Dan Traun of Red Wing, I’ve learned a lot. Dan’s photographic talents are far-ranging. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t shoot and shoot well, from portrait to studio, event, nature, panoramic, and scenic and urban settings.

A recent photo I shot outside of Kwik Trip on Faribault's east side was inspired by the work of Dan Traun. This is the type of scene Dan photographs.

A recent photo I shot outside of Kwik Trip on Faribault’s east side was inspired by the work of Dan Traun.

Dan excels in capturing urban street scenes, moments of everyday city life that, through his eagle eyes and the click of the shutter button, are personalized studies of humanity. His work is truly documentary, focused on ordinary activities and people. A road construction crew. People waiting at a bus stop. A man leaning against the side of a building eating lunch.

This remarkable photographer has taught me the value in the ordinary. He’s taught me to notice alleys, which can reveal as much, if not more, about a business than the public front side. He’s taught me to appreciate streetside interactions. He’s shown me urban Minnesota, an area I seldom frequent.

Every photographer develops his/her own signature style. I’d suggest you check out Dan’s work by clicking here. His photos show an unembellished Minnesota, the type of photos historians value. This is life. This is real.

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“Minnesota Faces” is featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Dan Traun portrait copyright of Cynthia Traun

 

 

 

Sweeping the steps on a Monday morning August 12, 2011

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WHILE ON A FOUR-DAY vacation in Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota earlier this week, I took nearly 500 photos.

Posed pictures. Landscapes. Carefully framed frames. And then photo after photo after photo that I shot from the passenger side of the car as my husband, son and I traveled along interstates, state highways and winding, narrow back country roads.

Taking photos from a car traveling at highway speeds can be difficult. But I enjoy the challenge of trying to capture a good, even great, image while on the move. Let’s just say I’m never bored because I’m constantly seeking photo ops.

That means looking ahead, anticipating and clicking the shutter button at just the right moment. Too soon and I miss the shot. Too late and I miss the shot. I can’t even begin to tell you how many pictures I’ve failed to get because I’ve had the camera switched to OFF or I’m not quick enough.

But the more I practice this method of photography, the better I become. I’ve managed to snap some of my favorite photos through the windows of a car. Yes, I keep the windows closed unless the car is traveling at 30 mph or less. I don’t want to risk dirt/dust flying into my camera and landing on the sensor.

And it goes unsaid that clean windows are a must, but not always possible. I don’t let dirty glass stop me from taking photographs.

All that said, here’s my favorite car-shot image from this trip.

My favorite image from this road trip: "Sweeping the steps on a Monday morning at a Mexican restaurant in Omro, Wisconsin."

Let me tell you a little about the subject. On our way to Appleton, Wisconsin, on Saturday, we drove through Omro, a small town just west of Oshkosh on State Highway 21. I saw this vivid orange Mexican restaurant, but wasn’t in a position to photograph it.

However, on the return trip through Omro on Monday morning, I had my camera ready and, when I saw the man sweeping the front steps of the restaurant, I fired off two quick frames and got what I consider a pretty darned good photo.

The vivid colors and composition make this, in my opinion, a good photo.

But the image excels to excellent when you consider the subject—a man sweeping the steps. Ordinary becomes extraordinary for the everyday story told. As a photographer, I strive to photograph regular, everyday life. When I manage to photograph a scene like this one, I am pleased, mighty pleased.

Even in black-and-white, the image remains a strong photo.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling