Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Connecting with community, history & art at Fall Flea Market September 17, 2022

Shoppers peruse the RCHS Fall Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

SATURDAY MORNING FOUND ME wandering among vendors at the Rice County Historical Society Fall Flea Market in Faribault. It was, as always, an enjoyable event, marked by conversations with friends I haven’t seen in awhile, conversations with vendors and reflecting on the past.

A handwritten sign along Second Avenue points to the flea market in the parking lot and on the grounds of the RCHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A RCHS Faribault sign provides the backdrop for a vendor’s book display themed primarily to Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

One vendor was giving away these plastic bags from the now closed Farmer Seed & Nursery in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Really, this is what local gatherings are all about for me. They’re about community and connecting, about embracing and appreciating this place I call home.

Beautiful bouquets from Erin’s Acre. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I was especially delighted to find, among all the vendors of miscellaneous merchandise, several artists. That includes Erin Sellner Honken of Erin’s Acre at Honken Farms. Erin creates with flowers she grows, tends, harvests and arranges into stunning bouquets for CSA subscriptions and special events. With an abundance of flowers right now, she decided to do a pop-up sale at the flea market featuring $10 dahlia mixed bouquets.

The stunning “river” table by JS Woodcrafts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Just down the way by the historic schoolhouse, I discovered Jeremy of JS Woodcrafts. It was his “river” table which drew my attention and admiration. If I could afford the $500 price tag, this maple top table with stones and pebbles epoxied in the middle like a river, would be mine. Love, love, love this work of art.

Spanky’s Woodshed art made from pallets. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

John “Spanky” St. Clair of Spanky’s Woodshed also specializes in woodcrafting. I learned that he uses pallets and aged barn wood to create. Anyone who recycles to create earns my praise.

A flower created by recycling spoons and forks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An eye-catching Louie Armstrong. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I almost bought the pheasant paint-by-number, one of a trio of paintings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I found more art in spoon flowers, in a Louie Armstrong figure, in paint-by-number paintings, in an endless array of merchandise.

Playing a woodwind in A Fun Lil’ Band. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Propped against the barn near the band (seemingly listening), cut-outs of Ed and Frank, spokesmen for Bartles & Jaymes winecoolers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The band that loves to make music. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

And while I walked I heard music rising from A Fun Lil’ Band in Rice County with a sign declaring WE JUST LOVE TO PLAY MUSIC!! Their music added an extra touch of joy to the morning market.

The RCHS was selling collector limited edition bottles of Fleck’s grape soda. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A view through a vendor’s booth featuring old toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A vintage toy tractor reminded me of the farm toys I played with as a child. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This event is a fundraiser for the Rice County Historical Society. But history is also very much a part of the market in aged and vintage merchandise vended. I reminisced over old farm toys, a baby stroller, a yellow Pyrex mixing bowl. I picked up a few items, pondering whether I should buy, but, in the end, held steady in my determination not to acquire more stuff. I’m at that age…

This colorful character caught my attention. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Parked along Second Avenue at the RCHS Fall Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
I was pushed in a stroller like this, except the stroller was blue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Instead, I collect with my camera, gathering images to tell a story, to share this market, to showcase the works of creatives, to express my appreciation for my community, this place I’ve called home for 40 years.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

More than a garden…a place of peace & respite August 18, 2022

A coneflower up close in the Rice Country Master Gardeners Teaching Garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

ANYONE WHO GARDENS understands just how quickly plants can grow. Sunshine and rain make all the difference.

Vegetables grow in the foreground in this photo, other plants and flowers beyond. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A month had passed between visits to the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden located at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. And in those few weeks, the vegetables, flowers and other plants grew in length, height and width, some blossoming, some with fruit emerging.

A mini sunflower of sorts (I think) bursts color into the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

There are signs aplenty in this teaching garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

An eggplant blossom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

To walk here again among the prairie flowers, the zinnias, the hydrangea and hosta, the burpless cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes and much more is to feel a deep connection to the earth. For it is the soil which roots, which feeds these plants watered by the sky, energized by the sun.

Gardening equipment stashed in a secure area next to the conservation building by the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And it is volunteer gardeners who plant and tend this beautiful garden for the enjoyment of many. Like me. I appreciate their time, their efforts, their desire to create this peaceful place in my community.

This broad-leafed plant name fascinates me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Aiming the camera down at Silver Mound, a wispy plant that I’ve never seen before. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A cucumber forming. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

To visit this spot is to understand how much we each need such a contemplative place. A place simply to meander along wood chip or brick pathways, pausing to appreciate the likes of broad-leafed Pig Squeak or the silvery sheen of Silver Mound or a little-finger-sized prickly cucumber or a Prickly Pear Cactus. There’s a lot to take in among the vast plant varieties.

One of the man-made tree stumps gurgles water. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The water feature is to the right of this centering circle. Across the way are an historic church and school, part of the Rice County Historical Society. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And then there’s the water, oh, the water. No garden feature soothes more than a fountain. Here five replica tree stumps spill water into a shallow pond, a focal point defined by a circle of bricks connected to brick paths.

I notice details, like a feather in a bird bath. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Even a bird bath drew my attention with a feather floating therein.

A lily blooms in early August. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The garden also features an arch for climbing clematis, which bloomed profusely earlier in the summer. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A bee house posted on a tree by the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Strategically situated benches offer sitting spots to pass the time, chat, read a book or simply take in the garden, the being outdoors, in nature. In this fast-paced world of technology and a deluge of news that is often awful and horrible and unsettling, this garden provides a respite. Nature has a way of working calm into our beings. Easing stress and anxiety. Lifting spirits.

Lovely flowers fill the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the challenges which have defined my life in 2022, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for this garden. I feel at peace here among the flowers and vegetables, the birds and butterflies, bushes and trees, here under the southern Minnesota sky.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Garden connections in Faribault, Part II July 25, 2022

In early July, lilies bloomed in the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

IN MY FARIBAULT BACKYARD, wild tiger lilies stretch above a tangled mess of greenery, popping orange into the hillside. On the other side of town, domesticated orange lilies grace the neatly-cultivated Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens at the Rice County Fairgrounds.

The master gardeners’ milkweed patch. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Also in my yard are scattered milkweeds, food for Monarch caterpillars. In the gardens tended by the experts, a mass of intentionally-planted milkweeds flourishes.

Clematis. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Blocks away from my home, Donahue’s Greenhouse grows one of the largest selections of clematis in the U.S. That’s their specialty. Across town at the master gardeners’ garden, clematis climb an arbor, lovely blooms opening to the summer sky.

The Berry-Go-Round. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Within a short distance of my home is the birthplace of the Tilt-A-Whirl, a carnival ride no longer made in Faribault but in Texas. On the edge of the master gardeners’ garden, a giant strawberry sits. It’s a Berry-Go-Round, a spin ride produced by Sellner Manufacturing beginning in 1987, before the company was sold.

Prickly pear cactus. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

More than 150 miles to the southwest of Faribault near the South Dakota border, prickly pear cactus thrive in the rocky lands of the prairie. I’ve seen them at Blue Mounds State Park near Luverne. And now I’ve seen them in the gardens at the local fairgrounds.

An overview of the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens, photographed in early July, with an historic school and church (part of the county historical society) in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

It’s interesting how, in life, so many connections exist. Even in a garden.

One of several benches in the master gardeners’ garden in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Gardens connect us to people, places, memories. A life that touches others goes on forever. I come from a family of gardeners tracing back generations. Vegetables grown in my mother’s massive garden fed me, and my family of origin, for the first 18 years of my life. I worked that garden with her, planting, weeding, tending, harvesting. I left gardening when I left southwestern Minnesota. But I still appreciate gardeners and gardens.

An artsy scene of clematis on arbor. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I value the beauty of flower gardens, the purpose of vegetable gardens to feed. And I appreciate, too, the peace a garden brings. To sit among the blooms and plants in a garden oasis like the Rice County master gardeners created is to feel a calm, a sense of serenity in the midst of chaos and struggles and challenges.

The water feature is shaped like tree stumps. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Water, especially, soothes me. The Rice County master gardeners understand that and added a water feature to their garden plot. I delighted in watching a tiny yellow bird (I think a goldfinch) splash in the water. Such a simple joy.

One of many educational signs in the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

And isn’t that part of a garden’s purpose—to bring joy? Joy to those who work the soil, seed or plant, tend and care for that which grows. Joy to those who delight in the all of it.

A sedum patch planted by the master gardeners. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I feel such gratitude for gardeners, for the nurturing hands that link me to nature. It’s all about connecting to each other in this world we share, in the commonality of humanity.

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Please click here to read my first post about the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens. Watch for one final post in this three-part series.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An oasis at the Rice County Fairgrounds, Part I July 18, 2022

Next to the conservation building, with an historic church and school in the background, the Teaching Gardens grace the Rice County Fairgrounds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

AT THE RICE COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS in Faribault, an unexpected oasis brings nature into a setting of buildings, grandstand and roadways. It’s a welcome respite, this Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens.

I love the “tree stump” water feature that blends so naturally into the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

On a Sunday in early July, Randy and I packed a picnic lunch and set out for the fairgrounds garden, a place we haven’t previously lunched. There we settled onto a fountain-side shaded bench, the soothing rush of water creating a peaceful ambiance.

Clematis. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)
Sedum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)
Lilies. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Afterwards, I ambled through these gardens, admiring the plants and blooming flowers. Clematis climbing an arbor. Sedum. Hosta. Lilies and roses and Pig Squeak. Masses of milkweed for monarch caterpillars. Eggplant, prickly pear cactus, Mugo pine and much more.

An overview of the gardens with vegetables in the foreground. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

If you’re into gardening, and even if you’re not, this compact garden patch showcases a wide variety of plants that are beautiful to behold. Some are grown as seed trial plants for the University of Minnesota.

The Seed Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)
Seed packets inside the library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

There’s a seed library, too, with packets of seeds tucked into a tiny red house similar to a Little Free Library.

Informational signage in the gardens. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

Strategically-placed signs identify plants and provide information about gardening in general. This is, after all, a teaching garden.

The milkweed patch with the Rice County Historical Society in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)
Roses. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

I believe these are onions gone to seed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

But for me, these gardens proved primarily a spot to retreat for a bit, to immerse myself in a place that feels restful, soothing, calming. Connecting to nature, whether in a natural or cultivated setting always, always renews my spirit.

TELL ME: Have you found a similar oasis mini garden where you live?

Please check back for more photos from this lovely teaching garden in additional posts.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Potted plants paint loveliness into Faribault yard July 14, 2022

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A mass of potted plants splash color and beauty into a corner lot in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

OH, HOW LOVELY this flush of flowers folding around a corner house in northwest Faribault. The scene proves eye-pleasing in color, composition and height.

I wouldn’t say that about every massive quantity of potted plants. I’ve seen enough scattered-across-the-yard pots to recognize when I see a well-done grouping. This one I like. A lot.

Pots of varied heights and sizes and positioned at various heights create a pleasing visual composition. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

The narrow color palette of purples and pinks mixed with some yellow is simply beautiful. Sweet potato vine and other spillers among the primarily petunias and million bells create a unified look. I also spot backdrop orange lilies and purple clematis in the mix.

Oh, how lovely this potted flower garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

This gardener clearly worked hard to create this floral painting. Choosing all these plants, then potting and arranging them takes time, effort and an artistic eye. And money. Plants are costly as are pots and soil.

I deeply appreciate those who beautify my community via the flowers they plant, grow and tend. In recent years, I’ve cut back on gardening. No longer do pots of flowers grace my front steps, the patio or the driveway next to the garage. But old-fashioned hydrangea still spill around the corner of my house. Ferns wave. The occasional milkweeds, phlox and assorted whatever mix in unruly flower beds that my Grandma Ida would have appreciated. Her flowerbeds were, like mine, a bit of a lovely mess.

Old-fashioned zinnias grown by my friend Al, who sells them at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

I miss the zinnias I once grew, the zinnias which filled my mother’s garden and then vases inside the southwestern Minnesota farmhouse of my youth. This spring my 3-year-old grandson planted zinnia seeds I gave to his mom, my eldest, on her February birthday. He was so incredibly excited when the seeds sprouted and even more so when the plants grew and blossomed. His mom praised him. “You have a green thumb, Isaac.”

He looked at his thumb and replied, “No, I don’t.” Sometimes we forget how children take everything literally.

Such joy flowers bring. Memories. Inspiring a new generation to perhaps plant flower seeds that will grow into a lovely mess of a garden or contained in a pot.

Lilies rise behind the potted petunias and other plants. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

This summer I celebrate the northwest Faribault gardener who brings beauty into his/her yard near the back employee parking lot of the Faribault Mill with this massive potting of flowers. This shows pride in community, pride in neighborhood and creativity.

TELL ME: Have you spotted a similar potted flower garden in your community? Do you grow flowers, either in beds or pots?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Peonies, wine & more at Aspelund June 16, 2022

Posing among the peonies in traditional Hmong attire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

OH, HOW STUNNING the traditional Hmong dresses worn by two sisters posing among the peonies in a rural southeastern Minnesota garden.

Among the most vibrant peonies… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Their unexpected presence graced my annual tour of Aspelund Peony Gardens with culture and color on a recent Sunday afternoon. What a delight to encounter these friendly women who say they simply love peonies. Their attire included floral print fabric. They traveled from the Twin Cities metro to this country location northwest of Wanamingo/northeast of Kenyon, site of Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens. After they photographed each other, one sister asked me to photograph them with her camera. I obliged.

The tasting room is to the right, an addition to the Rohls’ home. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
A wine flight, on a peacock-shaped wood cut-out. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
Assorted peacocks, the winery “mascot,” can be found in the tasting room. The story behind the birds: Bruce attempted to relocate living peacocks from his father’s farm two miles away, only to have the birds return to their original home. He learned later that peacocks eat flower blossoms. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I try to come here every year in early June to see the rows and rows of peonies in bloom. And to sip wine. This visit, Randy and I met our friend Valerie and her friend Jean. The place was busy. Owners Dawn and Bruce Rohl sell wine and take orders for root peony tubers, available in the fall.

Rascal makes me smile. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

Here Rascal the dog welcomes guests up the gravel driveway with raucous barking. I’d barely opened the van door when Rascal ran up and I reached down to pet him. Later I saw Princess the cat weaving through the peonies.

A view of the rural landscape from the vineyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
A tin-sided outbuilding, likely a granary at one time. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Grapevines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Those are the nuances which endear Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens to me. The simplicity of this place atop a hill overlooking the Zumbro River Valley, red barn and silo in the distance. This place of towering oaks and tire swing, of old tin-sided shed, apple trees, massive rhubarb plants, twisted grapevines…

A glimpse of the peony rows, all numbered for ordering tubers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

So many fragrant and beautiful peonies… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Ants are drawn to peonies, including to this bud. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

On this June afternoon, the wind blew fierce, whipping lose ends of my hair, dipping peony stems, playing a refrain inside my head of “summer breeze makes me feel fine” (Seals & Croft 1972). I felt mighty fine in this peaceful place among blooming peonies. Some buds remained clamped tight, but likely have opened in the days since my visit.

A developing apple. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I prefer meandering on this plot of land among the apple trees and grapevines and, especially, in the peony gardens. Here assorted shades of mostly pink and crimson flowers bloom. Colors vary from subdued to vibrant. Shapes, vary, too.

One of the more unusual peonies, layered in pink and yellow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

But it’s not all visual for me. I take time to bend close to the blossoms (check for bees), smelling their fragrant perfume which, if you’re a romanticist, may prompt you to reflect on long ago brides gathering peonies from their mothers’ or grandmothers’ gardens for bridal bouquets. They did so in my community of Faribault, storing peonies in the cool sandstone caves along the Straight River to preserve until their wedding days. Faribault was once The Peony Capital of the World. Some of the Aspelund peonies were sourced from those once grown in Faribault.

Guests enjoy wine on the back deck. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Touring Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens has become an early summer tradition for me. I feel comfortable here, at peace, soothed by the wind and the wine and the welcoming conversations. The small scale of the business suits me as do the unpretentious owners and the rural setting. As I watched two young girls sway on the tire swing, pushed by their dad, their happy voices rising, I felt such joy in witnessing this scene.

Sisters in traditional Hmong attire, one taking photos of the other. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

And I felt happiness, too, in that chance encounter with the two sisters from the Cities, celebrating their Hmong heritage in a field of peonies.

Peacock art inside the tasting room. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

FYI: Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens is open from 4 – 7 pm Thursday and Friday, noon – 7 pm Saturday and noon – 5 pm Sunday. Note that the tasting room is small, basically a walk-up and order space. Outdoor seating on the deck and other areas can be difficult to secure during busy times. However, you can order a glass of wine and walk around the gardens. If you want to see the peonies, go now; their bloom period is nearly done.

Click here to read previous posts from Aspelund Winery & Peony Gardens.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Peonies, mysteries & pay June 10, 2022

Peonies bloom at Aspelund Peony Gardens. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2018)

I HAVE SEVERAL TOPICS on my mind today, all unrelated, but a trio of information I want to share.

First up, Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens. This is one of my favorite rural Minnesota places to visit each June. On this 10-acre parcel of land just outside Aspelund (northeast of Kenyon or northwest of Wanamingo), Dawn and Bruce Rohl have created a little bit of heaven. Here they cultivate 50-plus varieties of peonies and also make wine. The couple are the most down-to-earth friendly folks. I always feel welcomed by them and their roaming dog, Rascal.

Peonies will bloom for several more weeks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

Now, with fragrant peony buds opening, is the absolute ideal time to visit Aspelund Peony Gardens and walk among the rows of flowers. I do so at a leisurely pace—dipping my nose into the perfumed petals, stopping to photograph these old-fashioned flowers that once graced many a bridal bouquet, noting the lovely shades of pink and crimson.

At the bottom of the hill, rows and rows of peonies grow against a country backdrop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

The gardens are also a business. The Rohls invite guests to stroll the gardens, then order peonies. In the fall, root peony tubers are available for customer pick-up or shipping. Gardens are open from 4-7 pm Thursday and Friday, from 10 am-7 pm Saturday and from 10 am-5 pm Sunday.

On the deck at Aspelund Winery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2018)

Be sure to order a glass of wine to enjoy on-site outdoors overlooking the scenic Zumbro River Valley. And then buy a bottle to take home.

A map included in a Mailbox Mystery created by Matt Stelter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2021)

Next up, Mailbox Mysteries created by OrangeGuy Games, aka Matt Stelter. During the pandemic, this Cannon Falls librarian crafted mysteries to mail to patrons stuck at home while the library was closed. It was a creative outreach program that I learned about while visiting Cannon Falls. I got on the mailing list for those mysteries and found them challenging, informative and a welcome escape from reality.

Now, with the library reopened, Stelter is no longer creating Mailbox Mysteries for the library. But he is selling his mysteries via Etsy through his private business, OrangeGuy Games. Given all the hard work, time and effort he invested in the games, simply letting them languish seems unwise. Thus the Etsy offering. His three mysteries—Spy School, Gangster’s Gold and Cypher Cabin—have been tweaked, updated, fine-tuned and improved. And they are half-price from now until the end of June.

My husband, Randy, at work in the automotive machine shop at NAPA Auto Parts Store, Northfield, in a job he’s held for 39 years. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

Lastly, applications opened Wednesday for the Minnesota Frontline Worker Pay program for those who continued to go to their respective workplaces during the pandemic without the option of working from home. There are income and other guidelines.

At his job as an automotive machinist, Randy resurfaces heads, grinds valves, turns brake rotors, does complete engine overhauls and much more. His work is highly-specialized and in high demand. Few people do the type of work Randy does. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

I’m thankful this legislation finally got passed because, as the spouse of an employee whose job requires him to be present (in the automotive machine shop) and in close contact with co-workers and customers, the risk of getting COVID was (still is) real and concerning.

State officials expect approved applicants to get about $750/each in frontline worker pay, depending on number of qualified recipients. That’s not a lot considering the risk. But it’s something and will help us as Randy is now paying more to commute 30 miles to and from work daily. In less than three months, he won’t have that gas expense as he’s losing his job of 39 years under new company ownership.

Aspelund Winery offers a variety of tasty wines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2016)

And so that’s what’s on my mind today. Peonies. Mysteries. Pay. And a glass of wine.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Popping spring into a Minnesota winter February 1, 2022

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A hyacinth blooms inside my Minnesota home in January. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

IN THE DEPTHS of a Minnesota winter, when snow layers the landscape and cold settles into my bones, I long for spring. I yearn for color, for warmth, for stepping outdoors without first donning, boots, winter coat, scarf, hat and mittens.

In a mini vase, set on a windowsill, greenery emerges. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

In that mind frame, I recently purchased a hyacinth bulb at Aldi. It was in the non-food aisle of oddities—those items you don’t necessarily need but may buy on impulse. But I did need this. I needed a visual pop of spring, of color, in my home.

In the warmth and sunlight, roots spread inside the vase. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

A year ago I bought a hyacinth bulb in a mini vase at Aldi, too, but for my son who at the time lived in Madison, Wisconsin. He struggles with the cold, with winter in general. So, for a few bucks, I jolted color into his apartment. He’s now living in Indiana, some eight-plus hours away, thus no hyacinth this winter.

Beauty even in the green of tight buds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Instead, I would delight in this spring flower associated with the Greek god Apollo. I chose a pink hyacinth this year rather than the blue gifted to Caleb. My granddaughter loves pink and I was hoping to give the spring flower to her. But then my mom died and Izzy was sick (not COVID) and time got away and I haven’t seen the grandkids since early January.

Set against a snowy backdrop, the hyacinth blooms inside my home. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

It was meant to be—for me to tend this bulb with buds clamped, then lengthening and unfurling into two beautiful blossom branches.

In the morning sunlight, the bulb sprouts roots, then greenery, then flowers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Each morning I moved the vase to the east-facing front picture window, into the morning light. I delighted in white roots expanding in the water-filled vase. I topped the water as instructed. I watched the greenery grow remarkably fast…until the first flowers bloomed. Lovely pink. And a fragrance equally lovely in intensity.

Hyacinth silhouette against the snow outside the picture window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Then the bulb tipped in the vase at the weight of the blooming stem. I leaned the heavy bloom against the window, propping it into balance.

A beautiful second blossom followed the first. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Soon a second shoot shot to the side. More flowers. Flowers set against a backdrop of snow. A symbol of spring in the depths of a cold Minnesota winter.

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TELL ME: Have you grown a spring bulb inside your home in winter? I’d like to hear what and why.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From flowers to cayenne peppers, a birthday celebration October 1, 2021

A beautiful birthday bouquet from my eldest daughter and her family. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I RECENTLY CELEBRATED a milestone birthday and I’ve never been happier to turn another year older. Gone is my absurdly high monthly health insurance premium of $1,245 (with a $4,250 deductible), replaced by affordable (and usable) Medicare coverage. And now I’m also eligible for the Pfizer booster vaccine. Yeah. Here’s to turning sixty-five.

Walking through the prairie at River Bend toward the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I didn’t celebrate my birthday with great fanfare or the usual birthday treat of dining out. (Even though vaccinated, I continue to be cautious and careful in these days of COVID-19.) Rather, Randy and I hiked across the prairie and woods at River Bend Nature Center, a treasured place to connect with nature in Faribault.

Omelet and hashbrowns, along with watermelon from the Faribault Farmers’ Market, comprised my birthday brunch. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Afterwards, I enjoyed a delicious brunch prepared by Randy. We dined al fresco on our patio at a card table draped in one of my many vintage tablecloths.

Then, in the afternoon, we spent time with our eldest daughter, her husband and our precious grandchildren at their home. I appreciated the grilled burger and vegetables with my favorite, cheesecake, for dessert. A wonderful way to celebrate.

The only thing that would have made my birthday even better would have been the presence of our second daughter, her husband and our son. But they called from southeastern Wisconsin and northwestern Indiana and that brought me joy.

Thank you to those who sent cards, this one from my second daughter and her husband. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Some friends and extended family also texted wishes. I got greeting cards, too.

Gladioli from The 3 Glad Girls. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

And flowers. Randy purchased a clutch of gladioli at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. And when he presented them to me with a “Happy birthday!” while I was chatting with Andy Webster of MEG’S Edible Landscapes, Andy took note. “It’s your birthday?” he asked.

“Well, not today, but tomorrow,” I told him.

Smoked cayenne peppers gifted to me by Andy of MEG’S Edible Landscapes. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Then he scooped a baggie of smoked cayenne peppers from the table. “Happy birthday!” Andy said with a smile. Now if that wasn’t the sweetest gesture from a young man who lives on his dream rural acreage in the Sogn Valley, runs his business and is working on a horticulture degree from Oregon University.

Andy’s genuine passion for MEG’S Edible Landscapes showed in his pitch and his personality. He is a genuinely warm and engaging person. To summarize, Andy sells a mobile system for growing vegetables like peppers, basil, beans, lettuce, carrots and more in bags that you can easily pick up and move. It’s ideal, he said, for someone like me without garden space. If enthusiasm and knowledge make for business success, then Andy is certain to succeed.

His unexpected birthday gift of those smoked cayenne peppers touched me in a way that resonated deeply. In these challenging times, I needed that affirmation of an unexpected act of kindness. What a great way to begin my next year of life.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Of blossoms & butterflies August 6, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Phlox. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

PHLOX IN VIBRANT SHADES of purple and pink, interspersed with occasional white blossoms, fill my flowerbeds. They thrive, their fragrance scenting the air that drifts through my office window.

A yellow swallowtail butterfly. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Occasionally I spot butterflies flitting among the phlox, random milkweeds, wild orange tiger lilies, ferns and other unidentified plants growing in a tangled mess of wildness. I love watching them—the monarchs and the swallowtails—their wings flapping with such incredible grace. They swoop and dip and pause. As if dancing. As if performing. As if penning poetry.

A mess of flowers grow on a hillside next to woods in our backyard. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Moments like this imprint upon me the importance of pausing to appreciate the beauty of nature. The details of a flower petal. The curve of a butterfly wing. The bend of a milkweed pod.

Phlox up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Now, more than ever, I need this connection to nature, these moments to reset. To see that, even as a pandemic rages, flowers still bloom and butterflies still fly.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling