Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Frozen” comes to Wabasha’s SeptOberfest October 17, 2017


THE WORLD OF ELSA and Anna and Olaf is mostly foreign to me. But to anyone with young kids, those are wildly popular characters from the hit 2013 Disney animated film “Frozen.”



So it was a smart move on the part of SeptOberfest organizers in Wabasha to theme a straw maze after the movie.



Set along the main drag through this Mississippi River town in southeastern Minnesota, the “Frozen” Straw Maze features handcrafted characters from the film staged atop straw bales.



When kids aren’t tracing the winding trail or climbing atop bales, they can rock and bounce on mini horses or scoot down one of two slides propped against bales.



The “Frozen” maze presents just another fun and engaging free activity for families visiting Wabasha during SeptOberfest. This is my kind of family-friendly small town.


FYI: This concludes my three-part series on three key family-focused aspects of SeptOberfest. Click here to read my first post about Zootopia on the RiverFront. And click here to view my post about the Pumpkin Patch. This fest runs until October 21.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In the Pumpkin Patch under the bridge in Wabasha October 13, 2017


MASSIVE MAMMOTH PUMPKINS sprawl across brick and cement walkways under the bridge in Wabasha in this season of autumn. Here among dried leaves drifted from trees and below traffic crossing the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin, locals have staged the Pumpkin Patch.







It’s a place that attracts all ages, that draws people here to wander among the gigantic pumpkins somehow wrangled into place. This year’s winning pumpkin, grown by Gary Russell of Plainview, weighs 879 pounds. That’s a lot of pumpkin.







As enthralled as I was by these hefty pumpkins, I observed that my 18-month-old granddaughter and a lot of other kids (and their parents and grandparents) and others were equally as impressed.


My granddaughter carries a bean bag to toss into the candy corn prop.





The Pumpkin Patch certainly celebrates the season with pumpkins of all sizes, festive fall displays, themed kids’ games, occasional pony rides and music, and more. It’s the perfect mix to bring people to this spot, to draw them into nearby boutiques, eateries and more as they explore this southeastern Minnesota river town.


Izzy loves owls, including this one painted onto a tree in a bean bag toss game.




Families pose for photos on the stage against backdrops of fall decor.


Just across the street, more autumn-themed activities await families. Check back tomorrow as I showcase that portion of Wabasha’s SeptOberfest celebration.  Wabasha wins my high praise for crafting creative spaces that focus on families and celebrate autumn in Minnesota.


FYI: For more details on all events in Wabasha’s nearly two-month-long SeptOberfest, click here.

To read about Zootopia on the RiverFront, my first post in this three-part series from Wabasha, click here.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Faribault area welcomes you to bike, run, eat, drink, learn about history & more this weekend October 6, 2016



FARIBAULT CELEBRATES FALL this Saturday with a day jammed full of activities for all ages.

If you’ve never been to my southeastern Minnesota community, please join us. If you live here, appreciate what Faribault offers. Here’s a round-up of events slated for Saturday, most in our historic downtown:

Faribault’s Fall Festival begins at noon with the Children’s Costume Parade starting at Community Co-op and continuing north along Central Avenue to Fifth Street. Afterwards, kids, accompanied by adults, can trick-or-treat at downtown businesses until 3 p.m.

Additionally, there will be pumpkin painting, yard games and unicycle shows to keep families and other folks busy and entertained.


Participants in last year's Chili Contest dish up chili at a business along Central Avenue during the Fall Festival.

Sampling chili during a Fall Festival in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


From 12:20 – 2:30 p.m., chili lovers, for a $5 fee, can sample chili from stands set up along historic Central Avenue.


The Adam Weyer Wagon Shop, built of limestone in 1874, is among historic buildings on the tour.

The Adam Weyer Wagon Shop, constructed of limestone in 1874, is among historic buildings on the tour. Weyer built buggies, carriages, wagons and bobsleds here from 1874 in to the early 1900s. He then opened a blacksmith shop. Today the building houses Carriage House Liquors.


Even before the costume parade, a free guided Old Town walking and biking tour of historical sites in downtown Faribault is scheduled from 10 – 11:30 a.m. Participants should meet at Buckham Center, 11 East Division Street.


And the volunteer firemen were on duty.

Firefighters return from a call in Marine on St. Croix, on the eastern side of Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration purposes only.


Also at 10 a.m., until 2 p.m., the Faribault Fire Department hosts its annual open house. Kids can meet fire fighters and Sparky The Fire Dog. There will be free demos, free fire hats and free smoke detectors.


We wanted to sample all of the beers on tap, so we ordered a flight.

A sampler of F-Town beers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Half a block off Central Avenue, F-Town Brewing kicks off its F-Oktoberfest at 11 a.m. with Gravel Grinder, a 50-mile charity bike race.

Brewery fun continues for 12 more hours with food trucks, live music and plenty of F-Town beer.


"Shoe Stories" opened Friday at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

The Paradise Center for the Arts is housed in a beautifully restored theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


At the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, the arts center hosts the Paradise Haunted Basement Tour from 1 – 3 p.m.

And for music fans, the Paradise presents A Tribute to “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen at 7 p.m. Admission price is $15 for members and $20 for non-members.


Math class is underway inside the one-room Pleasant Valley School.

Math class is underway inside the one-room Pleasant Valley School during a past “A Night at the Museum.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


On the north side of town by the Rice County Fairgrounds, the Rice County Historical Society opens its doors and grounds for the fourth annual “A Night at the Museum.” The event, with a $2 admission price for adults and $1 for kids, runs from 4 – 7 p.m. It’s a great opportunity to observe and participate in living history.




At River Valley Church, 722 Ravine St., the Lakelanders Acapella Chorus will present a 7 p.m. concert benefiting three local organizations that help women dealing with issues like domestic violence, homelessness, addiction, etc. Admission is a free will offering.

There you go. Lots to do in Faribault on Saturday. Come, join the fun, eat (and drink) local, shop local and appreciate all this community offers.



Well-kept and well-traveled paths take hikers deep into the Big Woods.

Well-kept and well-traveled paths take hikers deep into the Big Woods at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The park is known for its incredible fall foliage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Just to the east of Faribault, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, hosts its annual Big Woods Run half marathon/10K/5K/kids K through Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The events begins at 9 a.m. New this year is a guided prairie walk and nature talk.


Delicious home-cooked food fills roasters at Trinity's annual fall harvest dinner on Sunday.

Delicious home-cooked food fills roasters at Trinity’s annual fall harvest dinner in the church basement. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.


On Sunday, to the west of Faribault at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, the church will host its annual fall dinner and craft/bake sale. For $12 (ages 13 and up; $5 for those 6 – 12)) you can enjoy a homemade meal of turkey, ham and all the fixings. I’ve eaten here many times and this is an incredibly delicious meal cooked by folks who know how to cook. The food is delicious, the portions ample and the company welcoming and friendly. Serving is from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Logo from Faribault Main Street, key organizer of the Faribault Fall Festival.


Minnesota Faces: Historical reenactors “Katie” and “Jim” plus more October 2, 2015

Portrait #42  : Siblings Kaylee and William


Portrait 42, Night at the Museum actors


Back in the day when I studied history, it was dull and boring and printed mostly as straight factual information in books. Dates and events and important people. Page after page after page with the occasional illustration or photo to break up the blocks of copy. Since I’m good at memorizing, I passed history classes with ease, but not with interest.

I haven’t cracked a history textbook in decades. But I presume they are a bit more interesting, perhaps in a storytelling, personalized way.

Today, thankfully, living history conveys the past in a personal and relatable way that a textbook never will. When I met siblings Kaylee and William last September, they were role-playing pioneer children during the Rice County Historical Society’s second annual “A Night at the Museum.

Lots of kids were running around the grounds in period attire or attending class inside the historic Pleasant Valley School. I was learning, too, as I wandered the museum grounds and observed reenactors portraying historical characters. I suspect I’m like most people who find this much more educational and entertaining than simply peering at historical items on display inside museum walls. Not that that doesn’t have value, too. It certainly does. I just prefer living history and am grateful our local historical society started this annual “A Night at the Museum.”

From 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. this Saturday, October 3, attendees can interact with costumed characters from Rice County’s past on the museum grounds at 1814 Northwest Second Avenue in Faribault, right next to the fairgrounds. New this year is a Flashlight Tour of Harvest and Heritage Halls at 6 p.m. There will also be horse-drawn wagon rides and food available around the fire pit. Click here for more information.

Maybe you’ll spot Kaylee and William there, pretending to be Katie and Jim.


Participants in last year's Chili Contest dish up chili at a business along Central Avenue during the Fall Festival.

Attendees sample chili at a business along Central Avenue during the 2011 Fall Festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IF YOU WANT TO MAKE a full day of it in Faribault, arrive earlier for the annual downtown Fall Festival and Oktoberfest. Most events begin at noon. However, starting at 9:30, until noon, local artists will gather outside the Paradise Center for the Arts to create en plein air.

At noon there’s a kiddie parade and a Chili Contest with businesses and others offering chili samples (for a fee) until 2 p.m. From 12:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., those interested can take the Spooky Basement Tour, a free event at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The PCA is also holding a costume sale.  Kids can go trick-or-treating downtown from 1 – 3 p.m. Games for kids, pumpkin painting and a unicycle show are also among fest activities.

New to the downtown festival this year is Oktoberfest, celebrated from noon to 11 p.m. at Faribault’s new brewery, F-Town Brewing Company, just off Central Avenue. The event features food trucks, yard games, live music and, of course, beer.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sampling chili along Central October 18, 2011

HOW DO YOU LIKE your chili? With a shot of whiskey? Beer? An extra dash of cayenne?

All three were among ingredients incorporated into some of the chili served Saturday during the 2011 “Main Street” Fall Festival Chili Cook-Off along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

I was there, tagging behind my husband Randy and sister Lanae as they raced ahead of me, determined to taste all 33 chilies in an hour. (I had my camera, thus the lagging.) We didn’t quite accomplish our goal; some vendors ran out of chili and we missed a few.

But we all ate enough to fill our stomachs and then vote for our favorites.

Randy and Lanae apparently know a good chili when they taste one as the chili they selected—John Stepan’s at Geek Central—won the cook-off contest with 13 percent of the vote. John wouldn’t divulge his secret recipe to us, but he did mention something about soaking the chunky, green pepper-laced beef in an oriental sauce. And that was about all he would reveal.

I photographed only one chili and it happened to be the winner, John Stepan's chili at Geek Central.

I nearly voted for John’s chili, but instead cast my ballot for Glenn’s Towing. The guys manning the booth claimed motor oil and ground-up rubber as ingredients.

My sister and I took that as a challenge to finagle the truth out of them. They offered us 25 cents off a gallon of gas if we could guess three of the unusual ingredients. I suggested vinegar. Wrong. Lanae suggested brown sugar. Right.

But we failed to guess the other two, three actually, as it turns out: whiskey, cream cheese and cocoa. No discounted gas for us.

The catchy display of vintage toys at the Glenn's Towing booth.

A wagon-load of pumpkins were for sale in front of the Nook & Cranny, where Carl Mortenson's chili was served.

Theirs wasn’t the only chili including alcohol. At the Nook & Cranny, Carl Mortenson served his Guinness-infused chili.

And across the street at Flair Furniture, another chili taster thought beer might go well with the cowboy and cowgirl chilies served by competing father-in-law/daughter-in-law David and Mara Thiele.

The Thieles offering their western style chili at Flair Furniture.

At Hoffman Law Office, you could add your level of heat toppings to your chili. The felony level: Hell-fire Habanera

In fact, if you ever imbibe in this chili smorgasbord, I’d recommend buying a bottle of water to cleanse your palate or quell the tongue-burning fiery chilies—and we’re not talking temperature here.

Just for the record, plenty of fire-free and alcohol-free chilies were served.

An especially festive table at the Crafty Maven.

The Paradise Center for the Arts served chili and promoted its upcoming MASH production.

At the Signature Bar & Grill, General George Custer (aka Dave Custer) served his chili.

There really was a costume contest, albeit for kids, not adults. Although we missed the actual costume parade down Central Avenue earlier in the morning, I caught this Raggedy Ann and Andy and their dad later.

All in all, if you enjoy chili on a fall day, Faribault’s Fall Festival Chili Cook-Off would be the event for you. This year it cost a reasonable $2 to purchase a plastic spoon and then meander—or race—from booth to booth for two hours trying chili. We didn’t get there until about noon, so had only an hour to sample. Give yourself more time, especially if you want to visit with other fest-goers, check out the businesses and really take in the atmosphere.

FYI: Proceeds from the Chili Cook-Off benefit the Faribault Main Street program designed “to create an attractive destination in which businesses prosper, the community benefits and residents and visitors enjoy a quality downtown experience.” To learn more, click here.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Geeky chili and more at Faribault Fall Festival October 15, 2010

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Christine Henke serves chili, which I classified as "very spicy," at Glam Central Salon in downtown Faribault.


HOW MUCH CHILI could you eat if offered 25 samples? Visitors to downtown Faribault took on that challenge last Saturday in the Fall Festival Chili Cook-off. For $2 you could buy a plastic spoon and taste-test 25 chilies served at businesses along a five-block area of Central Avenue.

I tried 19 and quit when my stomach just couldn’t hold any more fiery or peppery or anything at all.

My efforts to rate the chilies based on originality, presentation and flavor ended at about taste table five. Although I jotted notes on my Chili Cook-off ballot, I found it impossible to rank them in three categories. That task was just too difficult and time-consuming considering I was also juggling a camera, a camera bag and a notebook, and chatting with people.



Tami Schluter, right, of the Historic Hutchinson House Bed & Breakfast, won second place with her Chili "Corn" Carne served at The Sweet Spot, a downtown candy and ice cream shop.


But, back to that chili. Here are the notations I made on my ballot, in no particular order: real spicy, very spicy, extremely spicy, beany, blah, sweet/tomatoes, green chili, lots of veggies, Berry Weiss, Argentine, all-meat Texas chili, cinnamon and lots of cilantro, strong beer taste, jalapenos.

There you have it. Now you figure it out. You can, clearly, make chili many, many, many different ways.

If you’re Geek Central, you’ll also masterfully present your chili as “Genuine Nerd Chili. Made with science!” Clever, clever.



The guys at Geek Central served Genuine Nerd Chili. The formula can be translated as follows: M for meat; P for peppers; T for tomatoes; H x 3 for heat; and C for chili.


Had I rated the Geek’s chili on presentation, I would have given it a one, the highest score, simply because of the creative signage. I would have rated the taste high too. Computer geek John Stepan informed me that his chili included 12 fresh jalapenos (yikes!), three big dried chilies and a habanero pepper. Isn’t that a formula for fire? Honestly, my husband and I heard a buzz on the street about the Geeks’ very spicy chili.

At least two contestants tied the words “a little kick” to their chili offerings. That would be native Argentinean Ozzy Amelotti, who is a chef at The Depot, and the Friendship House crew, which includes three Minnesotans and one Texan (who added the “little kick”).

Two cooks—Carl Mortenson at The Nook & Cranny and Rich Mackey at The Cheese Cave—stirred a bit of brew into their chili pots. Mortenson added his favorite Guinness, creating an Irish-inspired beer (his wife Jeanie revealed) and Mackey poured in Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss. Surprisingly, I could taste both beers.

By the time I reached Mortenson and Mackey, I was ready for a beer, although I would have preferred mine in a bottle. The hot day and all those fiery spices and peppers passing over my palate were pleading for a cool, refreshing drink of something, anything.

Thanks to the chili servers at Energy Crave, I gulped down a sample of energy tea, which gave me enough energy to cross the street, sample several more chilies, chug a bit of fresh apple cider and end my grazing along the Central Avenue chili smorgasbord.

Even though I officially did not cast a ballot in the Chili Cook-off, I did choose a favorite, which, coincidentally, won the competition. That would be Phi & James “Ribless Chili.” The pair, from Hy-Vee Foods and serving at Creating a Ruckus, concocted a winning recipe that included, among other ingredients, pork ribs, chili powder, cayenne pepper and Thai peppers grown in Phi Ho’s garden.



Phi Ho, left, and James Marthaler, the winning chili team from Hy-Vee Foods.


Coincidentally, Rich Mackey, the winner in last year’s Chili Cook-off, also used pork ribs to create his first-place winning dish. Mackey tied for third this year.

If I had voted for a second-place winner, I would have chosen the Argentine chili with cinnamon and “a little kick at the end,” scooped up by Chef Ozzy at The Cheese Cave.

All in all, the Chili Cook-off presented a wonderful opportunity to explore downtown Faribault, and sample some darned good chilies (and a few not-so-good), on a beautiful autumn day in October.



Craft and other vendors set up shop in a one-block area of Central Avenue during the Fall Festival. A brief, passing shower halted festivities for about five minutes before the sun emerged again.



I ducked inside Burkhartzmeyer Shoes during a short downpour. Outside, Sharon Geyer served chili, made from a family recipe, under an awning.



I shot this image through a window of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes while waiting for the rain to stop so I could resume my chili tasting along Central Avenue in Faribault.



A vendor sold pumpkins to festival goers.



Different cultures, all the faces of today's Faribault, mingled during the Fall Festival, one bonus aspect that I appreciated.



A wagon full of pumpkins were for sale in the 400 block of Central Avenue.


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Kids in costume on Central October 11, 2010

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Costumed kids and their families walk down Central Avenue in Faribault.


THEY WERE, OH, so cute. What else can you say about kids—from babes to elementary-aged—dressed in costumes for a parade through downtown Faribault during Saturday’s Fall Festival?

You can only smile, as big and sunny as the autumn day that was absolutely, undeniably, gorgeous.

Singly or hand-in-hand they walked, or danced, or rode on dad’s shoulders, or slept in a stroller as they paraded down Central Avenue.

Fairy-princesses. Two Dorothys. A contingent of scarecrows and a lion, but no tin man (that I noticed). A pasty-faced skeleton. Kids role-playing, the center of attention for several blocks on the main street of a Midwestern town on a Saturday morning.

And then afterward, they scrambled for treasure in hay, stroked paint upon pumpkins and drew chalk art on pavement.

All the while parents and grandparents smiled and snapped photos on a stunning day that was more summer-like than autumn for the kids in costume on Central.



The wings of a little princess on parade.



Dragon rides.



A slumbering babe and doll, ride through the parade.



Winged princesses were by far the most popular characters.



Fifteen-month-old Erin dressed as a lion.



The ruby red slippers of one of two Dorothys.



Princess Isabella, 5, paints a pumpkin.



Faribault High School freshman Sagal of the Students Together Offering Peer Support, paints a heart on the face of Ariah, 4, in the kids' activities area on Central Avenue..



Kelsie, 3, paints a pumpkin after the costume parade.


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling