Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Connecting cultures at the International Festival Faribault August 22, 2013

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Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico's national anthem last September during the International Festival Faribault at Faribault's Central Park.

Several Latinos lead in singing of Mexico’s national anthem during the 2011 International Festival Faribault at Faribault’s Central Park. The flags represent the diverse cultures of Faribault.

ITS PURPOSES ARE TO PROMOTE understanding between cultures and to unite the community.

This Saturday, August 24, the International Festival Faribault will strive to do just that through song, dance, ethnic cuisine, children’s activities and more from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in Central Park.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, left, and Nasteho Farah whom I met at last year’s fest.

I’ve attended the fest, now in its eighth year, several times. Each time I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for other cultures and for the challenges new immigrants to my community face. That hasn’t necessarily come simply via sitting on a park bench and watching ethnic dancers or listening to ethnic music. Nor has it come from purchasing food unfamiliar to my Minnesota taste buds.

That same little boy who was so intently focused on the musician.

A precious little boy photographed next to a vendor’s table during the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

Rather, I have learned the most by interacting, one on one, with those whose skin color and backgrounds differ from mine.

Therein, in my opinion, lies the key to understanding and uniting. The ability to see each other as individuals breaks down barriers, dispels untruths, brings people together. International Festival Faribault offers an ideal setting in which to connect personally.

Conversation and connecting..., no other words necessary.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from the 2012 festival.

So to the residents of my community, I issue this challenge: Attend the festival and connect with at least one person you don’t know. If you’re the descendant of German immigrants, strike up a conversation with someone from Somalia. If your roots are in Mexico, introduce yourself to someone with Scandinavian ancestry. You get the idea.

An Aztec dancer, garbed in a symbolic headdress entertains the audience during International Market Day in Faribault.

An Aztec dancer, garbed in a symbolic headdress, entertains the audience during International Market Day in Faribault in 2009. The event has since been remained International Festival Faribault.

In between that mingling, be sure to take in these scheduled activities:

10:30 – 11 a.m., Contemporary Spanish music by Miguel Tobar of Medford, also the program MC

11 – 11:30 a.m., Flag Ceremonies

11:30 – noon, Central American dances presented by Florecitas de Dios, a children’s dance group from Owatonna

noon – 1 p.m., Aztec dancers

1 – 2 p.m., Juggling act

2 – 4 p.m., Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo from Owatonna shows selected creatures.

2 – 3 p.m., Contemporary, gospel, pop and country music by Edy Valentine of Faribault

3 – 3:30 p.m., Somali dancers from the Twin Cities

3:30 p.m., breaking of pinatas and end of silent auction

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of a group of children waiting to swing at the pinata during the 2012 festival.

Besides all of that, you’ll find a busy children’s area with a bouncy castle, games, face painting, hula hooping and more. One of the sweetest parts of this festival is to observe children, no matter their skin color, dress or culture, scrambling for candy from a broken pinata or sitting side by side at a picnic table coloring. They don’t care about cultural differences that seem to wedge into the minds of adults.

The United Way Red Truck will also be on the festival grounds with free children’s books to give away. I’m all for anything that encourages reading.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos-- chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk.  You'll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods.

Served at the 2011 fest: Guatemalan chuchitos– chicken, corn and salsa wrapped in a corn husk. You’ll find numerous vendors offering a variety of authentic international foods.

Come hungry as vendors will sell ethnic foods of Central America, Somali, Ethiopia, Norway, Germany and more. Craft vendors will also be on-site.

International Festival Faribault truly does offer all of us the opportunity to embrace one another, to understand and to unite.

FYI: Click here and then here to read my blog posts from the 2012 festival.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Paul Bunyan land: Hackensack hosts art and book fest August 16, 2013

Every Tuesday during the summer months, Hackensack hosts a kids' fishing contest.

Every Tuesday during the summer months, Hackensack hosts a kids’ fishing contest on Birch Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IT’S A SWEET SMALL TOWN snugged in Minnesota’s northwoods north of Brainerd, half way to Bemidji.

This would be lumberjack Paul Bunyan.

This would be lumberjack Paul Bunyan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

You’ll find statues of legendary Paul Bunyan here…

Paul Bunyan's sweetheart, Lucette, stands next to the library along Birch Lake.

Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette, stands next to the library along Birch Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

and of his bride, Lucette. She stands near Birch Lake, next to an old log cabin that houses a library run by volunteers.

Several summers ago I photographed this log cabin library in Hackensack.

The Hackensack library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It’s no wonder Hackensack, home to not quite 300 permanent and who knows how many seasonal residents, will host its 18th annual Northwoods Art & Book Festival from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. this Saturday, August 17.

I’ll be there. Sort of.

I’ve submitted two poems to the Sixth Annual Poetry Display/Recognition, as I’ve done for several years.

Fest-goers can peruse the poems inside the Union Congregational Church and vote for their favorites for the six Popular Choice awards. The poetry committee will also select six Works of Merit. Poets will read their poems beginning at 1:30 p.m. with award winners announced afterward. Local newspapers will publish the winning poems.

A collection of works by eight Minnesota writers.

A collection of works by eight Minnesota writers.

But there’s more. Twenty-plus Minnesota authors and poets will sign and sell their books throughout the day. Sweet. Any event that promotes Minnesota writers and artists gets my support. Among the literary offerings is Bards of a Feather Write Together—A Collection. It features the poetry, fiction and memoirs, some previously published, of eight Minnesota writers, all members of the writing group Bards of a Feather. I am currently reading this debut anthology and thoroughly enjoying the variety of voices and content therein.

Visual artists will also be part of the Hackensack fest, selling their original artwork. Original and created by the artist. No resale items. Splendid.

No Minnesota festival is complete without food, which you’ll find in the food court.

I wish I could join this celebration of Minnesota writers and artists. But distance and previous commitments won’t allow me to be there. My poems will have to do. For this year.

FYI: For more information, click here to reach the Northwoods Arts Council website. The council is the festival sponsor.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of Bards of a Feather Write Together for review purposes.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder with a Laura Look-A-Like contest & more in Walnut Grove July 16, 2013

The prairie attire of girls entered in the Laura Look-A-Like Contest in Walnut Grove.

The prairie attire of girls entered in the Laura Look-A-Like Contest in Walnut Grove.

CALICO SKIRTS SKIM bare legs. Bonnets brush braids. Charlotte rag dolls tuck into crooks of arms and lunch pails dangle from clenched hands.

Each contestant was asked where she had traveled from, whether she'd visited other "Laura" sites and whether she'd attended the "Wilder Pageant" before drawing a question from a lunch pail.

Each contestant is asked where she traveled from, whether she’s visited other “Laura” sites and whether she’s attended the “Wilder Pageant.” Then each drew a Little House-related question from a lunch pail.

And Laura look-a-likes step up to the microphone during the Laura Look-A-Like Contest Saturday afternoon in Walnut Grove, the southwestern Minnesota childhood home of author Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I am in the city park with my husband and mother to meet my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and their 9-year-old daughter who have driven from North Dakota for this weekend celebration of all things Little House.

My niece's entry number. No, there were not 57 contestants. This is just the identifying number tag she was handed after I paid a $5 entry free and she registered.

My niece’s entry number. No, there were not 57 contestants. This is just the identifying number tag she was handed after I paid a $5 entry free and she registered.

At the last minute, my niece decides to enter the Laura competition and she scrambles to complete an entry form while the other girls are already answering questions about themselves and the Little House books.

My niece considers her randomly drawn question: What's another name for a leech? She got a little help with the answer.

My niece considers her randomly drawn question: What’s another name for a leech? She gets a little help with the answer.

Soon Beth joins the other Lauras on the grass, eventually taking her place in line to move up to the mic. I can sense her nervousness. She momentarily forgets that she lives near Grand Forks and that she’s seen the Wilder Pageant, an outdoor production featuring snippets from the Little House books, the previous evening. She hesitates again after pulling her question—What’s another name for leeches?—from a lunch bucket. (Bloodsuckers would be the answer.)

Pure Laura with bonnets, braids and prairie dresses.

Laura contestants with bonnets, braids and prairie dresses.

I am incredibly proud of Beth for joining the fun. And fun it is to see all of these 8 to 12-year-olds who have journeyed to the prairie from all parts of the country because they appreciate the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Four of the finalists in the Laura Look-A-Like contest. the fifth finalist was found shortly after I took this photo.

Four of the finalists in the Laura Look-A-Like contest. The fifth finalist was found shortly after I took this photo.

Beth doesn’t win the contest and, because of another commitment, we must leave before the top five finalists begin presenting a skit.

The Laura Look-A-Like contestants gather for a group shot in the park.

The Laura Look-A-Like contestants gather for a group shot in the park.

But my niece gathers with the other Lauras next to a brick building as the official photographer, along with a contingent of adoring parents, grandparents and at least one proud aunt, photograph the Laura look-a-likes.

If the contestants were chosen solely on which most resembled my image of Laura, it would have been this contestant.

If the contestants were chosen solely on which most resembled my image of Laura, it would have been this girl. She possesses that “look” which seems most like the Laura I imagine from the books.

FYI: Walnut Grove’s annual July celebration of all things Little House continues two more weekends, July 19-20 and July 26-27. The Laura-Nellie Look-A-Like Contest is part of the Family Festival, set again for 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturdays, July 20 and 27, in the city park. The Look-A-Like Contest starts at 3 p.m. with prizes based on overall appearance and knowledge of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Nellie Oleson, Laura’s nemesis.

The Family Festival features an abundance of activities for kids, plus music, re-enactments, arts and crafts, demonstrations of old-time activities, author visits, pony rides and more. I’d highly recommend attending. I’ll show you additional fest images tomorrow.

Other attractions in Walnut Grove include the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, several shops and a mural.

About a mile north of town, visitors can see the site of the Ingalls’ family dug-out along the banks of Plum Creek.

But the highlight for most is the Wilder Pageant, performed Friday and Saturday evenings, beginning at 9 p.m., in an outdoor amphitheater just outside of town. I’ve seen this locally-produced show, which features a horse-pulled covered wagon, a prairie fire and more, several times. It’s outstanding. Four more performances are set for July 19, 20, 26 and 27. I’d recommend reservations. If you are traveling from afar, be aware that you likely will have to travel some distance to find a hotel room. Walnut Grove does not have a hotel and the nearest one in Lamberton is likely already booked. There’s camping at Plum Creek Park, a Redwood County park near the pageant site. But this fills quickly, especially on pageant weekends. Reservations are recommended.

Click here to read more details about the Little House celebration in Walnut Grove.


Far fewer girls competed in the Nellie Oleson Look-A-Like contest. Clearly, few want to role play the mean Nellie. But look how these girls played the haughty role to the hilt.

Far fewer girls competed in the Nellie Oleson Look-A-Like contest. Clearly, few want to role play the mean Nellie. But look how these girls played the haughty Nellie to the hilt as a group photo was taken.

Take two of the Nellie Look-A-Likes.

Take two of the Nellie look-a-likes.

What grandpas won't do for their granddaughters.

What grandpa won’t do for his granddaughter.

Lots of families watched the Laura and Nellie contests and spent hours at the kid-oriented Family Festival in the park.

Lots of families watched the Laura and Nellie contests and spent hours at the kid-oriented Family Festival in the park.

Too young for the Look-A-Like contest, but still outfitted in prairie girl clothing.

Too young for the Look-A-Like Contest, but still outfitted in prairie girl clothing.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Photographing a choral festival: It’s in the details November 20, 2012

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MY VOLUNTEER ASSIGNMENT was to photograph the mass choir comprised of 250 singers from 11 churches.

Choir members from 11 churches sing four songs in closing the choral festival.

That shot came near the end of a 1 ½ hour Festival of Choirs event Sunday afternoon at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault. Choir members from churches in Eagan, Faribault, Inver Grove Heights, Janesville, Morristown, Northfield, North Morristown, South St. Paul, Stewartville and Waseca performed separately before joining in singing four songs of praise, thanksgiving and hallelujahs.

Congregation and mass choir, a side view.

Now, when I cover an event like this, I do not simply stand at the back of the church aiming my camera lens forward. Oh, no. I rove, searching for photo ops and angles that will tell a story. That is the photojournalist, and artist, in me emerging.

A piano’s player’s hands.

That same piano player and the choir she accompanied.

And, of course, the piano player’s feet working the pedals.

My pastor promised that if anyone got upset about me ranging here and there taking photos, they could speak to him. With that pastoral blessing, I set to work, moving from side-to-side of the sanctuary, tucking myself behind pillars, crouching beside pews, scooting along pews, crawling, squatting and, finally, for that mega choir group shot, climbing onto a chair.

Proof that even kids need someone to lean on while standing on a pew. This is not technically a perfect image. But look at that little girl’s face. Pure joy as she and, I assume, grandma, clap to the music.

At one point, I even slipped off my shoes and stepped onto a back pew, leaning on a stranger’s shoulder for balance. A spongy pew cushion does not make for a stable perch.

Because I shoot without flash, I knew I had to hold my camera perfectly still with each shot. I also knew that would not happen. But that is the beauty of shooting digital. Overshoot and you’re bound to have enough “good” photos.

I watched this boy, a member of the Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, choir, for awhile before capturing this moment.

I was also acutely aware that simply photographing choirs performing at the front of the church would not make for particularly interesting shots. So I watched for the personal moments, the snippets that comprise the whole.

My favorite photo of the day came quite unexpectedly as I was walking through the narthex. These brothers, brothers to the boy in the above image, were hanging out in the narthex with their mom, one watching the concert, the other not.

That takes patience and observation—consciously choosing to notice individuals and details—and often a bit of luck.

I wanted to show all perspectives of the concert, including that of the pianists.

I happened to be on the floor, saw the men from Peace Lutheran walking toward the steps and took one quick shot.

And then I raced to the opposite side of the sanctuary to get this photo of the Peace, Faribault, choir singing.

The director of the Trinity Lutheran Church, Northfield, choir exhibited such enthusiasm that I simply had to catch her in motion.

Remember that little girl from earlier? There she is again, watching. She makes me smile.

I set my camera on a front pew and aimed up for this perspective.

The mass choir can quickly become that, simply a mass, unless you focus. I chose to see the individuals, specifically the little boy in the front row who had lost his place in the music.

While noticing the details is vital to a photo essay, so is the broader view.

The light of late afternoon made the western stained glass window glow in golden tones. Here’s a snippet, Christ’s face.

I placed my camera on the floor and shot this mass choir and congregation image, the angle drawing your eye to the cross.

The mass choir disbands and the concert ends.

TO THE ORGANIZERS OF and participants in the choral festival, thank you for blessing us with your musical talents. I cannot read a single note and thus so appreciate those of you who do and who share your gifts.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Connecting, conversing and celebrating cultural diversity at Faribault festival August 28, 2012

This woman represents El Salvador during the International Festival Faribault on a drizzly Saturday. Flags suspended from the Central Park band shell in the background show the countries participating in the event.

DESCRIBING AN EVENT like International Festival Faribault within the confines of a blog post or two seems daunting. How do I adequately convey the essence of this fest celebrating the cultural diversity of my community?

You can view my first effort by clicking here and reading “Yearning for respect & equality, ‘no matter what color you are.’”

Now, as I scroll again through the many photos I took during the fest (when rain wasn’t drizzling upon my camera), I ponder which images to share, what words to pen.

Cultures connecting on the band shell stage between musical acts.

And “c” words—like color, connecting, communicating, conversation, coloring, candy, culture, care, colorful clothing—pop out at me as I view my photos.

I should perhaps add “confusing” to that list because I felt overwhelmed when trying to photograph the wood carvings from Somalia and Kenya peddled by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali.

A woman, without prompting, took this mask from the table manned by Bashir Omar and Asher Ali and asked me to photograph her.

Suddenly, it seemed, everyone wanted to pose for a picture. And I much prefer candid to set up shots. I obliged, though, because it seemed the easiest thing to do.

Lul Abdi shows off beautiful wood crafts from Kenya and Somalia.

Then Lul Abdi, who had grabbed a wooden platter and giraffe, and held them up for me to photograph, asked me to write in my blog that an election is coming up in Somalia and I should tell everyone to vote for whomever it is she supports. Bashir Omar translated my answer—I don’t write about international political issues.

While this back-and-forth translation was occurring, I felt befuddled because, when too much noise (in this instance lots of conversation going on around me and music in the background), is coming my way, my brain doesn’t process anything. That issue is related to the 70 percent hearing loss in my right ear.

Despite the difficulties, this muddle served as an aha moment. Imagine if I was Lul, struggling on a daily basis to understand those around me. Life would be challenging.

Busy artists at the kids’ activity table.

But sometimes we all speak the same language. And I saw, rather than heard, that on Saturday, at the festival, especially among the children. They sat side-by-side painting at the kids’ activity table, bounced side-by-side in the bouncy tent, stood side-by-side in line to take turns swinging at pinatas.

A little girl stands on the opposite side of the group of children waiting to swing at the pinata.

Differences in color and culture and language mattered not to these children. They shouldn’t matter to any of us. Therein lies the message I most want to communicate to you today and which was communicated so well via International Festival Faribault.

Happy children all focused on the same goal: breaking the pinata.

All around me, children and adults of all colors mingled.

The boy on the right was biking past Central Park and stopped to watch the activities at a distance.

The scramble for candy once one of three pinatas is broken.


Masks displayed at the food vendor representing El Salvador.

Waiting at the bouncy tent.

A Mexican dish (help me out if you know, but I think tortillas) was wrapped in banana leaves. My husband and I tried this.

Conversation and connecting…, no other words necessary.

Necklaces and other jewelry from Kenya and/or Somalia and for sale at the festival.

Kids painted and colored, etc., elbow to elbow at the always busy kids’ activity table.

Some mischievous face painting was also part of the fun.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Mixing art, music and BBQ at Faribault festival August 12, 2012

The banner and band scaffolding/set-up in the 300 block of Central Avenue during Saturday’s Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Fest in Faribault

FROM DEAFENING MUSIC that bounced between historic buildings along Faribault’s Central Avenue, to the savory taste and tantalizing, smokey smell of barbecued meat to the cheers of onlookers when a local celebrity plunged into the dunk tank to the clink of washers against asphalt in the washer tournament to human faces morphing, via paint, into animal faces, offerings at the fourth annual Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Fest in Faribault drew crowds, and smiles, on a picture perfect Saturday.

An overview of the crowd early into the event on Saturday, looking to the 300 block of historic downtown Farbault.

Coordinated by the Paradise Center for the Arts, the 13-hour free festival focused on bringing people into the historic downtown to enjoy/participate in the arts, music, food, a BBQ and homemade brew competition, and more.

The Black Widow BBQ team, one of about a dozen competing for top prizes of $500 in several categories.

BBQ teams set up along a side street to cook their meats and desserts.

A Texas native, now living in Faribault and a member of The Black Hat “BBQ” team, sprays apple juice onto his St. Louis style pork ribs during the BBQ contest.

Grill Cabin team members, from New Prague, prepare entries in the BBQ competition.

Retail stores like The Crafty Maven, 212 Central Avenue, at the heart of the arts and crafts fair and kids’ activities, expected an increase in business with an influx of an anticipated 5,000 people into the downtown for the festival. And that’s part of the plan, to celebrate downtown businesses, many of them event supporters. Other businesses in the community also sponsored parts of the festival.

Flower art and more, shaped and welded from old silverware, etc. is helping the DeWall brothers of DeWall Bros Metal Creations of Grand Meadow finance their college educations. Their art was for sale at the arts fest.

While the DeWall men were peddling their metal art, the women–mom/wife, Cindy, and girlfriend, Allison– were shopping and getting their faces painted by Jodi Gustafson of Big Shoe Entertainment.

Bob Maegerlein of Rochester, specializing in Raku ware, sold his pottery at the arts fair.

I arrived late morning and wandered for several hours past vendors—wishing I could sample the meat smoking in BBQ contestants’ grills; admiring the artistic creations of artists and a gifted face painter; ducking into the Paradise Center for the Arts to photograph the current art show, Car pARTS; steering mostly clear of the north end of the 300 block of Central because I couldn’t tolerate the volume of the live band music; trying a vendor’s delicious BBQed meat trio sampler that was way overpriced for the quantity (plus, no forks included); and, finally, stopping at Pawn Minnesota and then a Somali clothing shop on my way to the car.

Blues-rock guitarist/musician Trent Romens was among six featured musical acts.

Did the festival accomplish for me what I expected? Yes. I was entertained, although I would have appreciated a much lower volume on the music. Ditto for the price on the meat sampler. And I would have liked access to the home brew competition, which was tucked into the Paradise somewhere.

But all in all, the festival provided a fun way to while away part of a Saturday. And, for those downtown business owners who hoped the event would draw shoppers into stores, it worked for me. I’d never been into the pawn store and wasn’t even aware of the Somali shop or another ethnic business across the street (which wasn’t open).

If you’re from Faribault, I hope you took  time on Saturday to attend the Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Fest and appreciate what we have, right here in our own community.

With the weather about as good as it gets on a summer day, attendance was high at the Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Fest.

Dad and grandpa watched the pets while the kids played in the bouncy inflatables. These pom pom pets were a popular item sold at the arts fair.

Kids practiced for the washer tournament. I was not convinced by a tournament organizer to participate. “She would throw the washer through a store window,” my husband told him. He would be right. Either that or I would have struck a passerby. We walked away, for the safety of those in attendance.

Isabella, 7, of Faribault, one of the many kids who lined up for the free face painting. Check back for an additional post featuring the artwork of professional face painter Jodi Gustafson of Big Shoe Entertainment.

Taking a turn in the dunk tank…

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Come on over to Faribault for a BBQ & more May 17, 2012

An example of the barbecued meat prepared for the 2011 Minnesota in May BBQ Contest.

MINNESOTA BARBEQUE LOVERS, this is your weekend.

The season’s first of six Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned competitions in our state kicks off this Friday, May 18, with the Minnesota in May BBQ & Cheese Festival at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault.

And, folks, it’s free—unless you purchase food and/or beverages from vendors. And you’ll want to, once you smell the tantalizing aroma of BBQed meats. Vendors open to the public at 11 a.m. Saturday.

For the first time ever, Faribault hosted the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest at the Rice County Fairgrounds in 2011. Contestants cooked under tents during a morning downpour. By afternoon, the rain stopped.

Bubba and Sabrina’s home on wheels and traveling BBQ central parked at the 2011 Minnesota in May BBQ Festival. The couple owns Bubba-Q’s, a restaurant in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Artfully displayed bacon-wrapped pheasant prepared by a BBQ team from Appleton, Wisconsin, during the 2011 competition at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault.

With $10,000 in prize money up for grabs, you can expect some top contenders vying on Saturday for awards in these divisions: turkey product, chicken, ribs, pork, beef brisket, anything butt and dessert. Contestants will be cooking all morning and into the early afternoon with judging from 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.

These delicious-looking apple dumplings were entered in the 2011 dessert division.

Ten cooks will also compete in a “grilling with blue cheese” contest featuring Caves of Faribault cheese. Yes, we have some savory blue cheese made right here in my community and aged in sandstone caves. That contest is set for 3 p.m. Saturday.

Award-winning Amablu Gorgonzola from Caves of Faribault.

The Cheese Cave is a gourmet destination along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault. Stop by on Friday or Saturday if you’re in town for the BBQ Festival.

The Friday events, running from 4:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. include a Kids BBQ Competition,  BBQ Cook-Off and live music.

Now I’m not promoting this BBQ fest simply because it’s the nice thing to do. I attended last year and thoroughly enjoyed the festival, including chatting with numerous contestants. You would not believe how far these people travel, how much money they spend and how passionate they are about barbecuing. Click here to link to a blog post about the 2011 Minnesota in May BBQ Festival, which did not include cheese. Click here to read a post about BBQers Bubba and Sabrina from Iowa. And click here to read a third story from the 2011 BBQ fest.

The logo for the Faribo Drag-On’s car club on a member’s vintage car.

This year a car show, hosted by the Faribo Drag-Ons from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturday, has been added to the festival.

Other draws include a Saturday pancake breakfast from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. ($5 cost), live music, food and non-food vendors and more. Click here to read a promotional flier about the Minnesota in May BBQ & Cheese Festival.

Contest and festival proceeds will benefit IRIS (Infants Remembered in Silence) and The Faribo Drag-Ons. Two more good reasons to attend.

If you can’t make it to the Faribault BBQ festival, you’ll have more opportunities from June through September to attend Minnesota barbeque fests—in Owatonna, Rochester, Marshall, Albert Lea and/or Worthington. Click here to read details from the Minnesota Barbeque Society.

HAVE YOU EVER ATTENDED a barbeque festival? Please submit a comment and share your experience.


This file photo shows the Faribault Woolen Mill days after a flash flood in September 2010 and before the mill reopened a year later. The mill had closed in 2009 and was not in operation at the time of the flood.

P.S.  If you’re in town for the BBQ fest, take time also to check out the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store across the Cannon River just south of the fairgrounds. The store, in the recently reopened and revamped historic mill, opened Tuesday. Retail store hours are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Saturday.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Exploring Minnesota at the MSAD Scarecrow Fest October 18, 2010



A sign welcomes visitors to the Scarecrow Fest at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault.


EVERY YEAR IN FOREVER, my family has crossed the viaduct to Faribault’s east side to view the scarecrows at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. Autumn would not be autumn without this annual tour.

Years ago we loaded up the kids. Today it’s just me and my husband. But we still get the same kick out of seeing exactly what MSAD students, Faribault High School American Sign Language students, families and others have created for the October Scarecrow Fest.

This year, undoubtedly, has been my favorite with scarecrow scenes themed around Minnesota’s great outdoors. The displays are completely family-friendly—nothing scary or macabre or remotely frightening.

I suppose, though, that the sizes of the mosquitoes could frighten non-Minnesotans. But, shhhhhh, we’ll just let them think that our “state bird” grows as big as a bird and that we really do need Paul Bunyan-sized cans of OFF mosquito repellent.



With mosquitoes this big...



...swarming and droning...



...you really do need a mega can of bug repellent.


And, yes, Paul Bunyan was depicted in two of the creations. Unfortunately, in one case, Babe the Blue Ox, Paul’s side-kick, had toppled in the wind. But my husband set him upright for a photo op before Babe tumbled back to earth—at the mercy of Paul’s axe, noted a little girl who was touring the fest grounds.

Then I had to add, in a garish Halloween comment, that Paul was making Babe into steak. So much for keeping this family-friendly…



This Babe the Blue Ox had toppled in the wind, but he stood briefly for this photo.



This second Babe the Blue Ox sculpture stood his ground in the elements.


Honestly, I had to admire the ingenuity of the contestants with gourds transformed into fish and mosquitoes, a loon with a sock head and a pumpkin painted red to represent the cherry on Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.



MSAD's version of the cherry and spoon sculpture.



One of my favorite entries, this sockhead loon.


Unfortunately Split Rock Lighthouse had fallen by the time we arrived for our tour. Typically the weather takes a toll on this wind-swept campus.

But, for the most part, these exhibits need to be durable, durability being one of the criteria considered by judges evaluating the vignettes. They also look at use of materials, overall appearance and creativity.

I bet the judges had a tough time this year deciding who should win. The entries were that good. Of course, why wouldn’t they be? With an “Explore Minnesota” theme, competitors had a whole wide state of 10,000 lakes and loons and land to create a scarecrow scene of this place we Minnesotans love, despite our over-sized “state bird.”



Pumpkins were painted to resemble animals in the Como Zoo entry.



Detail. Detail. Even the name on this mock tombstone reflects Minnesota.



As you might expect, with an "Explore Minnesota" theme, many of the 17 Scarecrow Fest scenes included boats.


FYI: You have only a few hours to view the scarecrows, if any remain on the MSAD campus. They will be gone by 3 p.m. today.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating words and art in Paul Bunyan land August 19, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:39 AM
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Paul Bunyan's sweetheart, Lucette Diana Kensack

I’VE BEEN INVITED to Hackensack, home of Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart. Lucette Diana Kensack lives (or technically, stands) along the shores of Birch Lake next to a quaint 1930s log cabin that is the Hackensack Lending Library.

The lakeside of the Hackensack Lending Library. To the left stands Lucette.

Just down the road along First Street sits a sweet, pink fairy tale cottage.

Unfortunately, I’m not traveling to Hackensack, which lies midway between Brainerd and Bemidji and marks the half-way point on The Paul Bunyan Trail. I was just in Hackensack last summer and another trip that far north is not on the schedule. But if it was, I tell you, I would want to stay at that Hansel and Gretel cottage. (I don’t care that it’s a private home.)

I discovered the fairy tale cottage while visiting Hackensack last summer.

Instead, I’ll be back here in southern Minnesota awaiting results of a poetry competition. You see, some time ago I submitted two poems for possible display at The Northwoods Art Festival and Book Fair in Hackensack from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 28.

Recently I learned that both my poems were selected for display and are vying, like all the chosen poems, for “Works of Merit” designation by long-time Brainerd poet Doris Stengel. The visiting public will also vote for their six favorites as “Popular Choice” award winners. As far as I know, no cash prizes are made. Rather the prize lies in peer and/or public recognition.

I would love to tell you which of the untagged poems are mine. But since I don’t want to be accused of voter fraud, illegal lobbying or some other such poetic “crime,” I have sworn myself to secrecy. I’m quite certain that revelation of my poems’ titles could lead to disqualification.

That disclaimer aside, if you’re in the Hackensack area on August 28, check out the arts festival and specifically the poetry display at the Union Congregational Church. Minnesota writers and illustrators will be at the church signing and selling their books. At 1:30 p.m., the award winners will be announced and display poets can read their poems.

But there’s more to this fest than the written word. You also will find artists who work in paint, clay, metal, wood, fiber and photography. Throw in food and music and you have a genuine Paul Bunyan-worthy Minnesota festival.

Come to think of it, perhaps I should have penned a poem about Paul Bunyan.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling