Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Finding the perfect little Christmas tree in Faribault December 19, 2016

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That's me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

The Kletscher family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

FEW PHOTOS EXIST OF ME as a child. So I treasure each one, especially a rare color print of me and four siblings clustered around the kitchen table on Christmas Eve 1964. We are dressed in our Sunday best, back home from worship services at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta. I’m surprised we were willing to pose given the pile of presents.

 

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But it is not the gifts or the setting or even the impatient look on my middle brother’s face that remain imprinted upon my memory so many decades removed from the farm. It is the Christmas tree. I never realized how small that table-topped tree until I grew into adulthood. But it’s short, maybe three feet. I recall going to the local grocer and sorting through trees leaning in the snow against the side of the grocery store. Such memories.

 

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A few years ago, with my three children grown and gone, I decided to down-size our Christmas tree from average to small. I longed for a tree like the ones of my childhood. Imperfect and short with short needles. And I found that tree at Kuntze Christmas Tree Lot along Second Avenue Northwest in Faribault.

 

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This no-frills lot run since 1988 by Ken Mueller (and in business since 1939) features fresh-cut, untrimmed trees from a dairy farm near Duluth. They’re as natural as a tree can be. Shaped by nature. Pinecones and leaves still clinging to branches. Pliable, fresh needles. Exactly what I wanted.

 

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This season, Ken’s had a run on trees. Donahue’s Greenhouse, a major supplier of Christmas trees to locals, is no longer open during the holiday season. So on the date I shopped, December 10, I found a limited selection of trees in Ken’s lot. He’s not planning to restock. After sorting through about a half-dozen trees, my husband and I chose our Charlie Brown tree and Ken placed it in the back of our van. Yes, the tree is that small.

 

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Randy handed him $20, told him to keep the $4 change and they chatted for a bit because this tree salesman is a talker. Plus I wanted to snap a few photos.

 

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Now the tree stands in my living room, nestled between a window and a chest of drawers my dad once shared with his oldest brother. I snapped a selfie of myself with the tree after stringing the lights. I’m not good at selfies. (Or maybe I am since I meant for the tree to be the focus.)

 

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I’m much better at choosing a tree that reminds me of happy childhood Christmases on the family farm. For me, it’s all about the memories.

BONUS PHOTO: The message on the back of Ken’s business card:

 

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TELL ME: If you have a Christmas tree in your house, is it real or fake? Why?

This year the Christmas Tree Promotion Board has launched a campaign of “It’s Christmas. Keep it real.”  The board markets the tradition, scent and natural beauty of real trees.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Minnesota cold December 18, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:29 PM
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Photographed in downtown Faribault at 1:30 p.m.

Photographed in downtown Faribault at 1:30 p.m.

ON DAYS LIKE TODAY, when the windchill plummets to double digits below zero, I have to question the sanity of living in Minnesota.

It’s bitterly cold here. Like 23 degrees below zero in Faribault at 7:30 this morning. The temp mid-afternoon has now reached a balmy minus six degrees. And, yes, 17 degrees make a difference, especially when in the below zero Fahrenheit range.

The sun shines bright against the snow. And if not for the frost edging windows, the sound of car tires crunching on snow as traffic passes my home, the steady thrum of the furnace, the fleece throw warming my lap, I might convince myself that it’s not really that bad outside.

But then I remember the biting cold, the sparse church attendance, the icy car seat, the unattended vehicles warming in parking lots, the state-wide average windchill of minus 35 degrees.

This is reality today in Minnesota. It’s cold. Really cold.

© 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Free food & fellowship in Faribault on Fourth December 16, 2016

Volunteers expected to serve around 225 diners at the free Community Christmas Dinner. A free will offering could be given.

Diners at the 2012 Community Christmas Dinner in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I LOVE ALLITERATION, the repetition of sound that rolls off the tongue like a musical refrain: Free food and fellowship in Faribault on Fourth.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a past dinner.

The meal minus cranberries and bread. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This alliteration requires explanation: Fourth Avenue United Method Church in Faribault will host its 14th annual Community Christmas Dinner from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Sunday, December 18. The meal of turkey, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, bread, cranberries and Christmas cake is free. However, donations are accepted with a portion of those gifts benefiting charities in Rice County.

Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. They feed several hundred. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Several years have passed since I attended this church basement dinner at 219 Fourth Avenue Northwest. I have only positive words for the delicious Christmas meal served by friendly folks. I enjoy the food as much as the conversation with volunteers and diners in a festive holiday setting.

Volunteer Madeline serves Christmas cake at a past dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Volunteer Madeline serves Christmas Cake at a past dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

The most memorable menu item for me is the dessert—poke cake. These Methodists call it Christmas Cake, perhaps because of the red and green sugar sprinkled atop the Cool Whip frosting. Poke cake traces to the 1970s; I remember my mom preparing this cake for special occasions like Christmas. It’s a white or yellow cake mix poked with a fork after baking with Jell-O poured atop. Red or green Jell-O filters through the holes and into the cake. I’m not big on cake. But I’m big on memories.

The beautiful Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault. I'll take you inside the sanctuary in a follow-up post.

The congregation of the beautiful Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault hosts the Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’m also big on gratitude to the good people at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church who give this gracious gift to my community each Christmas.

Thank you.

TELL ME: Does a free Community Christmas Dinner exist in your community? Or have you ever tried poke cake?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In memory of little Lynnaya, words of grace December 15, 2016

lynnaya-espinoza-perrizoHOW DO YOU WRITE an obituary for an 8-year-old, especially a child who was the victim in an apparent murder-suicide?

With grace, dignity and joy.

I didn’t know Lynnaya Espinoza Perrizo (listed in a Faribault Police Department news release as Lynnaya Stoddard-Espinoza). But I feel now like I do because of the words penned in her just-published obit.

She was a girly girl, a creative and giving soul who loved to give gifts, sometimes toys from her toy box. She danced. She loved—her dogs, her cousins, her brother,…Jesus.

But there’s more to her story. Little Lynnaya, at age five, endured the loss of her godmother, Jodi Oborn Perrizo, who had legal custody of Lynnaya along with her husband, Ryan Perrizo. Jodi reportedly died of a heart attack in January 2014 at the age of 39.

Eight months later, nine days before Lynnaya’s sixth birthday, her birth mom, Sarah Matheny, died at age 27. Her obit does not list a cause of death.

That’s a lot of loss for a child.

Perhaps that’s why Lynnaya is called “a leader, intuitive, strong willed and independent, with a maternal nature beyond her years.”

How many of us as adults could handle that much loss in such a short time frame?

And how many of us could write an obituary that says Lynnaya was deeply loved by “Daddy Ry Ry,” the man who according to investigators took her life. Ryan is referenced several times. In a loving way. To write that takes a great deal of courage and forgiveness and sets the tone for others to deal with this tragedy. And perhaps that is the greatest tribute anyone can give Lynnaya, to honor her with words reflecting grace and forgiveness.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Image from the Boldt Funeral Home website

 

Another option for shopping local: the Faribault Winter Farmer’s Market

Bluebird Cakery in historic downtown Faribault is decorated for the holidays.

Bluebird Cakery in historic downtown Faribault is decorated for the holidays.

UPDATE, 1:50 PM Friday: Because of the winter storm, the Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market will be closed on Saturday. Instead, the market will be open from noon to 4 p.m. on Wednesday, December 21.

LOCALLY-GROWN/MADE has been trending for awhile. Know what you’re buying. Know the source. Know the farmer, the craftsman, the artisan.

Downtown Faribault last Saturday afternoon, here looking south on Central Avenue.

Downtown Faribault last Saturday afternoon, here looking south on Central Avenue.

This time of year, especially, we’re encouraged to shop local.

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In my community of Faribault, it’s easy to buy local, direct from the hands of those who raised or grew or crafted. And nowhere is that more grassroots possible than at the Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market.

The musicians' list of holiday songs and music.

The musicians’ list of holiday songs and music.

New to Faribault’s holiday shopping scene, the market fills the cozy lobby of the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue, in our historic downtown. Vendors offer jams, breads, cupcakes, horseradish, apples, maple syrup, beef, soap and more. I dropped by last Saturday afternoon to check out the winter market, recognizing sellers from the summer market in Central Park.

 

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The mood was festive with a duo performing holiday tunes in a side meeting room/mini gallery. In the main gallery and in the gift shop, local art was available for purchase as part of the arts center’s Holly Days.

 

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With the market winding down for the day, vendors had time to visit and personally promote their offerings. I sampled mango jelly on a saltine cracker. Randy sampled apples and bought a bulging bag of juicy Pzazz, an open-pollinated Honeycrisp cross. We love this apple, unheard of by us until the purchase from Apple Creek Orchard. We talked horseradish making with another vendor.

 

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Earlier that day we shopped local across the street at our favorite cheese shop, The Cheese Cave. There Randy bought a wheel of St. Pete’s Select blue cheese and a chunk of a special edition Smoked St. Mary’s Grass-Fed Gouda, both made and aged in Faribault caves.

 

Faribault's Central Avenue from Fourth Street south.

Faribault’s Central Avenue from Fourth Street south.

 

I am fortunate to live in a community where local is valued, where good folks tend and harvest crops, where the bounty of the earth and of hands is shared at the farmers’ market and beyond.

TELL ME: What can you find that is locally-grown/made in your community?

FYI: The Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market is open this Saturday, December 17, from 1 – 4 p.m.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbing

 

An unspeakable tragedy in Faribault December 14, 2016

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used here for illustration purposes only.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used here for illustration purposes only and not photographed in the area of the current tragedy.

SOMETIMES INCOMPREHENSIBLE TRAGEDIES happen in life that defy understanding. Something so horrible that we can’t wrap our minds around reality. We wonder and weep and wish we would wake up and our world would be unchanged. The darkness gone, replaced by light.

In my community of Faribault, we are wondering this week. Wondering why an eight-year-old girl is dead, apparently shot by the man who was her legal guardian. Local police are calling the deaths of Lynnaya Stoddard-Espinoza and Ryan Perrizo, 33, an apparent murder-suicide. Their bodies were found Sunday afternoon inside their Faribault home. Both suffered gunshot wounds; a handgun was recovered next to Perrizo.

The deaths leave many unanswered questions. Mostly, why? Why did this happen?

Nearly three years ago, on January 31, 2014, Perrizo’s 39-year-old wife, Jodi, died following a sudden illness while vacationing in Florida, according to her obituary. And now these deaths. I can speculate. The police can speculate. The general public can speculate. But until the investigation is complete, we don’t have answers.

We have this fact: Two individuals are dead.

And we have a community affected by this unspeakable tragedy. I think mostly of the surviving families and then of little Lynnaya’s classmates at Faribault Lutheran School, the same school my three children attended. How do you explain Lynnaya’s violent death? How do you reassure and comfort and help these children cope? Can these kids even grasp what has happened? With an enrollment of around 100, Faribault Lutheran is a like a family. Lynnaya’s absence is real and children and adults—teachers, parents, grandparents—are hurting.

How do we as adults explain something we can’t even explain?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A community Christmas welcome at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School December 13, 2016

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

WHENEVER I VISIT the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School on Faribault’s east side, I feel like I am walking onto an East Coast college campus. This place of aged stone buildings presents a scholarly image that seems more post-secondary than prestigious college prep school. Known for producing hockey legends, SSM has a current enrollment of nearly 500 students in grades 6 – 12. Most board here.

Window sills, nooks, hallways and more are decorated for the Christmas Walk.

Window sills, nooks, hallways and more are decorated for the Christmas Walk.

Some of those students mingled and participated in Shattuck’s Campus Christmas Walk, an annual holiday gift to the community. I try to attend each December, enjoying the figure skating show, music and treats and the opportunity to view the historic buildings in holiday splendor.

The decorated entry of Shumway Hall.

The decorated entry of Shumway Hall.

The historic buildings feature lots of stained glass windows.

The historic buildings feature lots of stained glass windows.

Inside the historic dining hall.

Inside the historic dining hall.

The dark handcrafted woodwork, the sagging stairs, the stained glass windows and more speak to the history of SSM. The school traces its roots to an Episcopal mission school and seminary established in 1858.

Students study in a newer area of the campus.

Students at a computer station in a newer area of the campus.

But today it’s every bit technologically modern within aged walls. There’s a strong vibe of arts and culture and academics. That Shattuck welcomes locals like me onto campus is a good thing in building community relations and exposure of all this school offers. I couldn’t help but think while at Shattuck on Saturday how much my son would have liked this educational setting and the challenges offered therein. He graduated last spring from Tufts University in greater Boston.

Skaters from Shattuck-St. Mary's Figure Kating Center of Excellence presented a Christmas Spectacular on Ice.

Skaters from Shattuck-St. Mary’s Figure Kating Center of Excellence presented a Christmas Spectacular on Ice.

As I watched the figure skating show, I swayed to “Feliz Navidad” and other holiday tunes while talented skaters glided and twirled across the ice in their sparkly sequined costumes. I remembered then how much I once loved to skate on a bumpy pond in the shadow of a small town grain elevator.

Signs directed visitors.

Signs directed visitors.

In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests.

In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests.

A lone musician performs.

A lone musician performs.

A short walk from the ice arena, I listened to string instrument solos, delighting in that music and the holiday tunes of carolers performing in an entry hallway. And I remembered how I once stood on the stage of my high school dressed as a Dickens caroler with a yellow posterboard bonnet wrapped around my head.

A sizable crowd of kids and adults gathered for holiday treats and kids' activities.

A sizable crowd of kids and adults gathered for holiday treats and kids’ activities.

Cookie decorating delighted the kids.

Cookie decorating delighted the kids.

Farther down, in the Morgan Refectory (the dining hall), kids munched on cookies they’d decorated, green and red frosting outlining their lips. They also created Christmas ornaments. I paused with my husband to sip a cup of hot chocolate, trying to warm myself after an hour in a cold ice arena. Years ago, after completing farm chores, I would thaw my numb fingers over the milkhouse stove.

A prop at the figure skating show.

A prop at the figure skating show.

These nutcrackers fascinated the kids.

These nutcrackers fascinated the kids.

The sight of kids sticking their fingers inside the mouths of oversized nutcrackers caused me to chuckle. I recall doing the same decades ago with a nutcracker my sister received from her godfather. There’s something about a nutcracker…

I entered the Shattuck complex through a rear entry and shot this from inside, showing the stone exteriors of campus buildings.

I entered the Shattuck complex through a rear entry and shot this from inside, showing the stone exteriors of campus buildings.

A reading nook in an addition.

A reading nook in an addition.

An ornament sparkles on one of many Christmas trees on campus.

An ornament sparkles on one of many Christmas trees on campus.

And there’s something about Shattuck during the Campus Christmas Walk. Even without any kids in tow, I experienced the holiday magic of this historic place.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling