Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The simple joys of life with kids on a spring day in rural Minnesota May 8, 2018

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IT TOOK TWO SWEET KIDS to remind me just how joyful the early days of spring on a rural Minnesota acreage.

 

My favorite photo of Evelyn and Landon as my great niece celebrated her birthday on Sunday.

 

On Saturday, Randy and I watched our great niece and nephew while their parents celebrated their wedding anniversary with an all-day date. We were happy to do so. We love these two little ones who live within miles of our home. The family moved here a few years ago, our only family so close. The kids call Randy “Papa Two.” I’m just Audrey.

 

 

With sunshine and summer-like weather, we spent the entire day outdoors. Roaming. Playing. Running (the kids, not us). By mid-afternoon, the pair had successfully exhausted us. By then, Grandma and Grandpa arrived as our tag-team replacement.

 

 

It was a busy and adventurous day. I’m more cautious in my approach to caring for children than my husband. So when I observed Randy allowing the two to climb among the branches of a lilac (I think) bush, I advised against it. “You gotta let ‘em be kids,” he said. OK, but I wanted them safe and uninjured. Other than a slight slip from a branch and resulting tears, they were just that. OK.

 

 

 

 

I played side-by-side with Landon and Evelyn in the sandbox, pushed them in swings, supervised the watering of greenhouse plants.

 

 

 

We petted goats and watched chickens.

 

 

And we paused, too, to smell the perfume of apricot blossoms.

 

 

Landon told us that he wants to work on tractors when he grows up. No surprise there. He’s crazy about John Deere. And after observing his barbering skills on his little sister’s hair, I advised against that as a career.

Evelyn wants to be a horse girl, whatever that means. She already has the cowgirl boots, which I pulled on and off her feet multiple times. She prefers bare feet to the trappings of socks and shoes.

I love that these siblings would rather be outdoors than anywhere. I love that they have such good imaginations. We sat on the front stoop and in lawn chairs and “fished” with tiki torches, landing five tuna and past-our-limit walleyes from the front lawn “lake.”

 

 

We picked up sticks and loaded them into Landon’s mini gator which he steered like a seasoned farmer across the yard to the campfire pit. His efforts, though, to convince us to start a fire failed. While he and Evelyn can persuade us to do a lot, starting a fire on a hot and windy afternoon was not one of them.

 

 

Piggyback (or maybe horseyback for Evelyn) rides and tiny hands clasped in ours…such sweet moments. I’ll take them. Kids remind us that we need to pause in life, to take a day just to delight in the sunshine, the great outdoors, the carefree days of childhood.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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From pets to farm animals, Faribault artist creates vibrant portraits February 20, 2018

“LaFonda” from Squash Blossom Farm

 

I’D RECOGNIZE Faribault artist Julie Fakler’s art anywhere. She paints animal portraits that pop with personality and color, that leave me smiling and happy.

 

“Peters Farm Horse”

 

Her signature acrylic paintings feature domestic animals against a backdrop of bold color. No distractions of setting. Just the animal, full focus.

 

“Grandview Farm Cat”

 

I’m always drawn to the eyes. Julie has the ability to paint eyes that connect me to the cat or dog or horse or cow or goat or whatever creature she paints. I look into those eyes and I see an animal cared for, loved, important to someone somewhere.

 

A promo for Julie’s Faribault show.

 

The latest somewhere took Julie onto five area farms to wander among and photograph animals, talk with the farmers and then paint for her latest show, “Southeastern Minnesota Farm Animal Portraits Exhibition.” She received a Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council grant for the project.

 

Julie’s farm animal portraits, including “Squash Blossom Farm Chicken,” adorn walls in Buckham Commons.

 

Several days ago I photographed, with Julie’s permission, her art now displayed through February 28 at Buckham Commons, the hallway linking Faribault’s public library to the community center. Her farm animal paintings are also displayed through February 24 at the Austin (MN) Artworks Gallery. Julie’s new show deviates from her usual pet portraits. I always appreciate an artist who takes on creative challenges.

 

“Grandview Farm Goat”

 

Whenever I view Julie’s animal art, I envision her vibrant work beyond acrylic on hardboard. I see her animal portraits on the pages of a children’s picture book, on t-shirts, on pillows, on tote bags…the possibilities seem endless for this animal-loving artist.

 

Even Julie’s guestbook is handcrafted.

 

Portrait propped next to the guestbook.

 

Some of the comments penned in the guestbook.

 

TELL ME: What do you think of Julie’s art and/or other possibilities for her paintings?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork copyright of Julie Fakler and photographed with her permission. Julie paints animal portraits on commission and also teaches “Paint your Pet” classes. Check her website by clicking here for more info.

 

An Old MacDonald style park in Mankato August 18, 2015

One of two barn style buildings at Sibley Park in Mankato, Minnesota.

The barn style stable at Sibley Farm in Mankato, Minnesota.

GROWING UP, MY DAUGHTERS had a Fisher Price barn that, when the doors opened, “mooed.” For hours they would play with this toy farm. Being a rather unwise mom who determined that everything from their childhood could not be kept, I gave the barn, silo, Little People, tractor and animals to friends with little ones. My eldest once reminded me that was a mistake. I agree.

A fenced pond is in the foreground and a second barn type pole shed in the background.

A fenced pond is in the foreground and the farm’s barn in the background.

But now she, and other twenty-somethings who hold fond memories of the Fischer Price barn, can see a similar real-life barn at Sibley Farm in Mankato’s sprawling Sibley Park.

Kids love the tractors, this one located next to the bridge spanning the pond stocked with fish and dotted with water lilies.

Kids love the tractors, this one located next to the bridge spanning the pond stocked with koi and dotted with water lilies.

Friendly sheep are a favorite.

Friendly sheep are a favorite.

The fabulous farm-themed playground.

The fabulous farm-themed playground. There’s also a traditional playground, shown in the background.

I explored the farm on a recent Sunday afternoon, delighting in the animals, the pond, and the agricultural-themed playground. What a brilliant idea, to create this educational and engaging tribute to the region’s rural roots in the heart of southern Minnesota farm country. The farm park opened in 2008 and was partially funded by a $200,000 gift from the Al and Erla Fallenstein fund through the Mankato Area Foundation.

A young family checks out the alpacas.

A young family checks out the alpacas.

When I got to the pygmy goats, a young boy was feeding them grass.

When I got to the pygmy goats, a young boy was feeding them grass.

The farm animal sculptures provide perfect photo opportunities.

The farm animal sculptures provide perfect photo opportunities.

This agricultural-themed park makes my farm girl heart happy—to see kids petting farm critters, posing with farm animal statues, racing to tractors, and clamoring onto barn, silo, straw bale and even cornstalk playground equipment. This is a place for families, for anyone who grew up on a farm, and for those who didn’t.

The farm features Ayrshire cattle like this one seeking shelter in the heat of a summer afternoon.

The farm features Ayrshire cattle like this one seeking shelter in the heat of a summer afternoon.

We need to hold onto our rural heritage. And one way to do that is through parks like Sibley Farm.

Your guide to Sibley Farm in Mankato.

Sibley Farm’s lay-out.

FYI: Sibley Farm is located at 900 Mound Avenue and is open daily from 6:30 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. mid-spring, summer and early fall. Admission is free. Click here to read a 2011 post I wrote about a goat-napping caper at this very park.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A sign at the playground.

A sign at the playground.

And the chickens.

The playground chickens.

I absolutely love the creativity of the playground cornstalks.

I absolutely love the creativity of the climbing apparatus designed to look like cornstalks.

Love the signage at the farm-themed playground. There's also traditional playground equipment, background.

Love the signage at the farm-themed playground. There’s also traditional playground equipment, background.

Playground pig sculptures.

Playground pig sculptures.

A musical detail on the playground.

A musical detail on the playground.

The miniature ponies are kid-sized friendly.

The miniature horses are kid-sized friendly.

Bring coins so kids can feed the animals.

Bring coins so kids can feed the animals.

Daily instructions posted inside the barn for employees.

Daily instructions posted inside the barn.

Found feathers displayed in the barn.

Found feathers displayed in the barn.

Appropriately printed lockers.

Appropriately printed lockers.

CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a similar, but much smaller, project proposed for the Redwood Falls Public Library.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling