Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Anything but plain in Plainview, from signs to shops & more June 27, 2022

A favorite sign at Cupcakes Etcetera. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

THEY—SIGNS, NOTICES, WINDOW DISPLAYS—offer insights into the character of a place. I’ve discovered that during my meanderings into small towns, mostly in Minnesota.

A welcoming message on the Plainview Community Center window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent visit to Plainview in the southeastern corner of our state, I found plenty of evidence revealing the welcoming friendliness of a creative community with lots of home-grown businesses. There’s nothing plain about Plainview. I popped into several shops when I walked along West Broadway. Some, to my disappointment, were not open on the Saturday afternoon I was in town.

An unexpected find, New Fresh Wok. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Food offerings at the Chinese restaurant. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Still, I got a good feel for this business community simply by observing. The chicken and shrimp menu options written on a whiteboard in the window of New Fresh Wok sounded mighty tasty to me. (I’d already eaten. Unfortunately.)

An eye-catching color scheme defines Cakes Etc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

Across the street, Cakes Etcetera was closed. But the colorful building with the equally appealing signage pulled me closer. I’m pretty sure I’d be a fan of the artfully-decorated cupcakes, the decadent brownies, the Salted Nut Roll bars and other sweet treats created here.

The bottom portion of the display window at Rare Necessities. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I also appreciate occasional shops like Rare Necessities, which offers upcycled and re-imagined décor, one-of-a-kind necessities and accessories. It’s usually open from 10 am – 4 pm Friday and Saturday on the third weekend of the month, which didn’t happen to be during my stop in Plainview. Next time.

“Cakes” in a window at Cakes Etc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But in the shops that were open and which I stepped into, I found a common denominator—friendliness. And I’m not talking a simple, how can I help you greeting. I’m talking a genuinely warm welcome with engaging conversation. The I’m glad you’re here attitude.

Posted in the window of the Plainview Community Center, an invitation to veterans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At the community center, veterans receive an especially warm welcome with free coffee on Tuesdays, during “Breakfast with Friends.” That sounds so hospitable, so small townish lovely.

Note to drivers in the window of Your Family Healthcare. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I also noted a sign in the front window of Your Family Healthcare directing delivery drivers to leave packages next door at J.T. Variety & Toys if the chiropractic clinic is closed. Just another example of Minnesota Nice, small town business version. I’ve spotted this type of signage in other rural communities.

Soap with an intriguing name, available in Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But I’ve never seen a sign for Howling Goat soap illustrated with goat and wolf props.

That random ash tray. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Nor have I seen an ASH TRAY on the side of a building, my most unusual find of the afternoon in downtown Plainview.

More cake shop signage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This is what I love about small towns. I never know what I will discover. Every community is different. Every community holds character. And that, for me, is the draw, along with friendly folks, home-grown shops and eateries, creativity…

TELL ME: Have you been to Plainview? Or have you discovered a community that holds similar appeal? I’d like to hear.

Click here to read my previous posts from Plainview. And check back for one final story in this series.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Holy smoke, time for music & pizza June 7, 2022

The Todd Thompson Band gets up close to the audience at a past Holy Smoke concert. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2017)

TIS THE SEASON for outdoor local summer events and gatherings that feature music and/or food.

Christ Lutheran Church, the church on the hill along State Highway 60 on the east side of Faribault, kicks off its Holy Smoke Pizza Ministry this Wednesday, June 8, from 5-8:30 pm. If you live in the Faribault area, this is a must-attend event for the homemade pizza and the music.

I’ve attended numerous times. The pizza, made in an outdoor oven, is savory/delicious/just darned good. I’d recommend the BBQ brisket. Be prepared to wait. And also come prepared with lawn chairs or blankets as picnic table seating is limited.

A photo of pizza from Grandview Valley Winery, used here for illustration only. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2014)

Whole pizzas, in assorted varieties, cost $22. Quarters are also available for $7. All proceeds benefit local charities, this summer Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota, HOPE Center and Rice County Habitat for Humanity.

While the pizza is certainly a draw, so is the music. This week Relativity, a group featuring a vocalist and instrumentalists on guitar, mandolin and fiddle, performs current top 40 songs to classic and folk rock. The trio includes fiddler/mandolin player Mike Hildebrandt, an inductee into the Minnesota Rock & Country Music Hall of Fame.

The steeple of Christ Lutheran. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2017)

Holy Smoke is not just about music and pizza and giving back to the community. It’s also about gathering with others in a beautiful backyard type setting on a summer evening. It’s a good time to catch up with friends and/or make new friends. Note, though, that anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who has been in contact with anyone who has tested positive in the past 14 days and is not fully-vaccinated should NOT attend. I am thankful for that safety measure. The first person to die of complications related to COVID-19 in my county of Rice was the Rev. Craig Breimhorst, retired pastor of Christ Lutheran Church. He died in April 2020 after returning from a trip to the Holy Land.

If you can’t make this week’s Holy Smoke, two other Wednesday concert-pizza nights will be held. On July 13, Todd Finney performs and on August 10, Old Country Brothers.

A view of St. John’s at a 2016 car show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2016)

There’s another concert in the area at 7 pm on Wednesday, June 8, that is also worth your consideration. St. John’s United Church of Christ Wheeling Township (near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park) is hosting a summer evening of outdoor worship featuring the music ministry of 29:11 International Exchange. That group is based in Minnesota and South Africa. Its mission is to “facilitate hope and reconciliation through music, cross-cultural relationships and individual artist development…by recognizing that each of us is worthy of understanding and love, we can bridge the ideological, racial and socio-economic gaps that divide us and live together as citizens of the world.” Again, bring lawn chairs or blankets.

I feel grateful to both St. John’s and Christ Lutheran for hosting these outdoor community-focused summer events which benefit attendees and beyond.

TELL ME: Is there a similar event in your community that you try to attend each summer?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bricks, bins & bars in Elgin June 6, 2022

This unique, artsy “fence” is the first thing I noticed in downtown Elgin. Absolutely love the creative functionality of these repurposed doors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

SMALL TOWNS, LIKE PEOPLE, have personalities. I’ve discovered that in my years of exploring rural regions. I can learn a lot about a place by simply walking through the heart of a community, even if I never enter a single business.

The door fence is to the right of this stately corner brick building with the lovely architectural details. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent day trip into Wabasha County in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I stopped briefly in Elgin. Three words define my initial impression of the business district in this community of 1,090 just 20 minutes northeast of Rochester: bricks, bins and bars.

Beautiful brick buildings define downtown Elgin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Bricks reference the row of aged brick buildings I spotted along one side of the street. One dates to 1899. I see so much potential in these historic structures if the “updates” on ground level were removed to reveal the original. I recognize, though, that takes money. But, as one who appreciates aged buildings with good, solid bones, I would love to see these buildings restored to their historic selves. What an asset that would be to Elgin.

Behind those brick buildings, bins rise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Bins reference the mammoth grain bins back-dropping that row of brick buildings. This is most-assuredly a farming community, home to All-American Co-op. I especially appreciate the faded signage identifying the local ag business.

Identifying signage provides a vintage artsy backdrop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At one time, Elgin was also home to a creamery and milk service. The community honors its dairy heritage with Elgin Cheese Days, an annual small town festival slated this year for June 17-19. Events include a parade, carnival, tractor pull, burnouts, vendor and craft show, softball and volleyball tournaments, garage sales, music and the EMS Cheese Chase (walk/run). As these celebrations go, they are really reunions of those who once called this town home or still call this place home.

Bold signage for a place that welcomes everyone like family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
To the left, Out of Bounds Sports Bar, “where everyone knows your name.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
O’Neill‘s Pizza Pub serves more than pizza. There’s Irish whiskey, too, and a game room with classic games. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I expect lots of commiserating will occur at the local bars. That’s the third “b” I noticed during my walk along the main street. Bars abound here. The BlackTop Bar & Grill. The Out of Bounds Sports Bar. And O’Neill’s Pizza Pub.

The pub is open. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Although Randy and I didn’t patronize any of these places, I expect they are worth a stop for food and drink and conversation. As a group of cyclists told us, the bar they lunched at served up a mighty fine sandwich. We had packed a picnic lunch. Next time.

Banners feature students from the graduating class of 2022. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Yes, we’ll return to Elgin to explore a bit more. Perhaps drive 1.5 miles south of town to pick up some cheese at Prairie Hollow Farm.

I wonder about the current use and history of this small building by the bins, by the alley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I know we missed a lot during our quick stop…

TELL ME: If you’re familiar with Elgin, what should I see/do next time I’m in town? I’m looking for any insider tips, things I might bypass because I’m unaware. Why should someone visit Elgin?

Please check back for another post from this community. And then it’s on to neighboring Plainview.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Featuring fun finds, farm-fresh, fiddling & more May 10, 2022

At last spring’s RCHS Spring Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021)

AFTER AN INCREDIBLY long winter followed by an exceptionally cold, cloudy and wet spring, we Minnesotans are ready to get outdoors. We are ready to celebrate. We are ready to let the sun shine into our lives. And this weekend, opportunities abound locally to get out and enjoy spring in southern Minnesota.

Spotted at the spring 2021 flea market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

Rise and shine early on Saturday, May 14, to hit the Rice County Historical Society Spring Flea Market from 8 am – 2 pm in the parking lot and behind the RCHS museum in Faribault. I’ve attended many times and enjoy meandering among the vendors of antiques, collectibles, crafts and junk. I mean “junk” in a positive light.

Plants available for purchase a year ago, looking toward the vendor site under the fairgrounds car port. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2021)

While there, also check out the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market under the carport at the Rice County Fairgrounds from 10 am – 2 pm. Some 20 area/regional vendors will market spring produce, locally-grown starter plants, cheese, honey, pastries, woolen products, homemade soaps and much more.

Customers place orders at the Local Plate food truck at the May 2021 Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.)

Adding to the farmers’ market draw are local food trucks on site.

A group of mostly Northfield area musicians performed as Hutenanny at a past Valley Grove Country Social. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2010)

On Sunday, May 15, two area historic Norwegian churches celebrate Syttende Mai, Norway’s Constitution Day. Both events begin at 2 pm.

Duo churches grace the hilltop at Valley Grove. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2018)

At Valley Grove churches, rural Nerstrand, the gathering focuses on the dedication of tapestries woven by Robbie LeFlueur. The Minneapolis weaver was commissioned to create four tapestries—three will be complete by May 15—that illustrate church history, the congregation and the surrounding flora and fauna. She will also give a weaving demo. Hardanger fiddlers from St. Olaf College will provide entertainment. Valley Grove, atop a hillside near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, is a favorite destination of mine given its beautiful and peaceful country setting. I’ve attended numerous celebrations, or simply walked, there and always enjoyed myself. The Syttende Mai event goes until 4 pm.

Completed in the fall of 1899, the second Trondhjem Church sits atop a 100-foot high hill. Listed on the National Register of Historic Sites in Minnesota, this Norwegian church has walls constructed with 24 corners to brace it against the wind. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

In northern Rice County, the Norwegians of Old Trondhjem Church, rural Lonsdale, are hosting Tjarnblom, a Scandinavian folk group as their Syettende Mai celebration begins at 2 pm. There’s a brief meeting of the preservation society followed by coffee (of course), treats (of course) and fellowship (of course). I’ve also attended events at Trondhjem and recommend you join in this Norwegian celebration.

There you go. Four places to go in Rice County that will bring sunshine into your May weekend.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hitting the sauce May 9, 2022

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Cry Baby Craig’s, Faribault made hot sauce, which I love. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

STEREOTYPICAL RURAL MINNESOTANS, especially those of Scandinavian descent—of which there are many—avoid spicy foods. Just a hint of heat in chili is plenty, thank you. And to flavor hotdish, pass the salt and pepper, please. Oh, and that hot sauce, no thank you.

But at least one Minnesota woman, arrested recently in Faribault, loves to spice things up.

Faribault police responded to a disturbance call on April 16 only to find the woman speeding away in her car, evading them. When she eventually stopped, the officer noticed signs of intoxication. But the 32-year-old refused to take field sobriety tests. This is all according to police reports.

A popular mass-produced hot sauce. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

As the officer was preparing a preliminary breath test, the woman “grabbed a bottle of hot sauce and began drinking it.” Yes, you read that correctly. She hit the hot sauce in an apparent effort to avoid alcohol detection. Once arrested and taken to jail, the driver refused to take a breathalyzer test.

Made in Faribault, Minnesota, Cry Baby Craig’s hot sauce. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The report about the incident in the April 29 issue of “The Point After” police newsletter doesn’t list the hot sauce brand consumed. I’m wondering because…a popular Minnesota hot sauce, Cry Baby Craig’s, is made right here in historic downtown Faribault. I hope she was at least loyal to her hometown brand.

While the hot sauce consumption rates as not the brightest idea ever, I give the woman credit for creativity and for making me laugh. But the rest of this incident is not at all humorous, entertaining or smart. There is nothing funny or wise about allegedly driving while under the influence. She now faces charges of fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle, 2nd degree DWI, DWI test refusal and child endangerment. There were two children in the car with her. No amount of hot sauce will hide that fact.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another world award for Caves of Faribault cheese March 21, 2022

Felix, Caves of Faribault’s latest award-winning blue cheese. (Photo source: Caves of Faribault Facebook page)

THERE SEEMS TO BE no middle of the road here, no riding the fence. Either you like it or you don’t. And I, for one, love blue cheese. I cannot think of a cheese I don’t love, although processed cheeses rate lower than others on my taste buds.

I live in a community where world class cheese is produced. This year the Caves of Faribault team brought home the bronze in the Blue Veined Cheeses with Exterior Molding category of the World Championship Cheese Contest held recently in Madison, Wisconsin. That award was given to Felix blue cheese, named after Caves founder, Felix Frederiksen.

Award-winning Amablu Gorgonzola from Caves of Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

The number of awards won by Caves of Faribault cheesemakers in the past dozen years in numerous competitions is lengthy and impressive. (See the awards list here; you’ll scroll and scroll.)

Surprisingly, I have not yet tasted Felix blue cheese. Described as having a “dense, fudgy texture,” it’s aged for 60 days minimum in caves carved in the 1850s into sandstone bluffs along the Straight River. Originally, those caves were used by local beer-makers. The process for crafting Felix allows the sandstone caves to “create a natural rind that picks up on the different microflora that inhabit the caves,” according to the Caves website. That’s the basic scientific explanation. I mostly just care that the blue cheese tastes good.

Once my primary source of local cheese, The Cheese Cave closed several years ago. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

My go-to Caves cheeses have been their long-standing Amablu®, Amagorg® (Gorgonzola) and St. Pete’s Select® (blue cheese). With the closing of the Caves downtown Faribault retail store and restaurant a number of years ago, finding our Caves cheese locally has dropped to one source, HyVee grocery store. Note that it’s available in many other places throughout Minnesota and in all other 49 states and internationally. Illinois-based Prairie Farms Dairy Inc now owns Caves of Faribault. Ownership changes often result in changes away from local focus.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce make a perfect salad, topped with lemon poppyseed dressing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2011)

Cheesemaking has a history in Faribault tracing back to 1936 and that first cheesemaker, Felix Frederiksen. Faribault, according to the Caves website, is the home of America’s first blue cheese. And now, 86 years later, local cheesemakers continue to craft award-winning blue cheese in sandstone caves along the river. Cheese that I, for one, love.

Big Woods Blue from Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand, by the Big Woods (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

FYI: There are other award-winning cheesemakers in this region of southern Minnesota, including Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand, and CannonBelles Cheese, Cannon Falls. Both are part of the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market producers group. That locally-sourced/grown/raised/crafted market held its last inside winter market recently, but restarts in the warm season at its outdoor location under the carport at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. The first outdoor market is from noon – 3 pm Saturday, April 16. The next follows from 10 am – 2 pm on Saturday, May 14.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo credit: Caves of Faribault Facebook page

 

The DQ’s open, spring is coming March 15, 2022

DQ Peanut Buster Parfait. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

FOR RANDY AND ME, and likely others in the Faribault area, the opening of “the Little DQ” signals the shift to spring in Minnesota.

Late Sunday afternoon we joined the line of vehicles snaking around the small Dairy Queen along Lyndale Avenue. Our mission: To order the five-day opening special, a Peanut Buster Parfait for $1.99. Make that two, please. That totaled $4.28, with tax.

The drive-up (walk-up was closed) DQ opened on February 18 after a seasonal closure on October 29, 2021. The closing special was the same as the opening special—those bargain parfaits loaded with peanuts and oozing layers of rich chocolate fudge over soft serve ice cream. Yum.

But the treat is also loaded with calories. As we waited, I noted the calorie count of 710 on a sign. Yikes. It’s a good thing we treat ourselves to DQ only twice a year. In October and then again in March.

I also struggle with the regular price of $4.99 (I wouldn’t pay that price) for a single parfait. I realize DQ is in the business of making money, but that price point exceeds my cost comfort level. I can purchase a 1.5 quart container of ice cream from my local grocery store for around $3. That yields nine servings with a lot fewer calories. Around 200 for two-thirds of a cup versus 710 for that Peanut Buster Parfait.

I know, it’s not the same. Different type of ice cream. Different experience. DQ, for us, is a treat. It also signals the shift in seasons. In October, the move from fall to winter. And in March, the move from winter toward spring. Even as remnants of snow still bank the ground.

TELL ME: What’s your favorite Dairy Queen treat? How often do you go to DQ? Or do you have another favorite ice cream source?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Valentine’s Day: Of conversation hearts, sparkly sugar & a whole lot of love February 14, 2022

Vintage valentines from my mom’s collection. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

AT THE RISK of sounding old, which, by the way, I sort of am, I remember Valentine’s Day back-in-the-day, meaning the 1960s.

I remember bringing a shoebox to Vesta Elementary School, covering the box with white paper, cutting a slit in the lid (the teacher helped) and then pasting red construction paper hearts onto the wrapped box. Whew, that was one long sentence. If I didn’t have a shoebox, I crafted a mega envelope from white paper, decorated it with paper hearts and then taped the valentine holder onto the edge of my desk. Either way, I had a vessel to hold valentines.

I carefully picked the valentines I gave to each classmate. This is from my mom’s collection. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

On the day of our Valentine’s party, I arrived at school with cards carefully chosen for each classmate. These were not Disney-themed valentines pulled from a box, but rather generic, often flowery, cards punched from an over-sized book. It took effort to remove those cards. But it took even more effort to choose just the right one for each classmate.

An “I love you” valentine heart crafted for me by one of my children (I think my son) in elementary school. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Words mattered to me even back then. I didn’t want anyone, especially the boys, to misinterpret messages printed on a valentine. That applied to those chalky candy conversation hearts also. There would be no “Be mine” or “True love” for boys I found disgusting. And, no, I did not gift an entire box of those hearts to anyone. I came from a poor farm family. Several candy hearts tucked inside an envelope or a single stick of Juicy Fruit gum taped to a card was the treat limit.

Stencils and colored paper for crafting cards. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Those sweet memories of Valentine’s days past remain. But now I’m making new memories. With my grandchildren. On a recent Saturday morning I baked carrot cupcakes, mixed up a batch of cream cheese frosting, gathered construction paper, stencils and foam hearts, and checked valentine-themed books out from the library. Randy and I were headed to see the grandkids and I had projects planned.

Isaac in non-stop motion racing his truck. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

But first we played, the kids racing over-sized vehicles across the floor, round and round the table and through the house with the expectation that Grandma would do the same and I did for awhile with a toy airplane, which conveniently took flight. But then I needed a break. A break meant decorating those healthy cupcakes I baked, the healthy being the 1 ½ cups of shredded carrots (never mind the cup of sugar in the batter and then an additional cup in the homemade frosting).

Isaac with one of the cupcakes he frosted and sprinkled. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Heart-shaped toppings for the cupcakes from my daughter’s stash. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
The cupcake in the center is minus about half the sugar Isaac dumped onto it. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Wiping crumbs and frosting from Isaac’s face. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Frosting and decorating cupcakes hold universal appeal for kids. Grandpa and I tag teamed with him assigned to 3-year-old Isaac and me to 5-year-old Isabelle. All went seemingly well with the usual admonition not to lick the knife, then wash the knife and repeat. But then I handed a slim bottle of sparkly pink sugar to Isaac, who tipped the bottle, and, well, you can guess what happened. He dumped enough sugar atop that single cupcake to decorate a dozen. What could we do except laugh, dump most of the sugar off and continue on. Eventually the cupcakes were all decorated and one each eaten.

We played with Owlette and Catboy from the Disney Junior show “PJ Masks.” I had no clue who these characters were prior to playtime. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

We took a break for more play, this time climbing up Mystery Mountain (stairs) to the Splat Volcano (Isaac’s room), where I got my feet stuck in splat, not to be confused with lava. The kids pulled me free. Good thing because there were valentines to craft. Except we never got to the valentines. I thought it more important for the siblings to create birthday cards for their mom, whose birthday is shortly before Valentine’s Day.

I brought a bag plumped with foam heart stickers for the grandkids to use in creating cards. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Again, I supervised Izzy while Randy helped Isaac. I got the easy job as Isabelle is a kindergartner, meaning she can sit quietly and create, managing a pencil and markers and stencils just fine, thank you. She finished her mom’s birthday card long before her brother. Isaac was quite taken with the foam heart stickers I brought. Hearts in hues of pink and purple. He’d stick one on the orange construction paper folded into a card and then stick on another. And another. And another. No valentines were ever made. But if foam hearts can convey love, then my daughter Amber ought to know her son loves her lots.

Stickers galore decorate the birthday card Isaac made for his mom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

So these are my latest Valentine’s Day memories. Not of candy conversation hearts or heart-covered shoeboxes or fixating on valentine choices, but rather memories of time with my beloved grandchildren. Such sweetness in those love-filled moments…

#

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your Valentine’s Day stories, past and/or present.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

New date for Valley Grove’s Donut Hole Roast January 6, 2022

The gated entry to Valley Grove, rural Nerstrand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

HERE WE GO AGAIN. Due to extreme cold temps, the first-ever Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast at an historic Minnesota country church grounds has been rescheduled for the second time.

The event at Valley Grove churches is, as of today (Thursday), slated for 2 – 4 pm Saturday, January 8. Weather forecasters predict a temp of around 30 degrees, much warmer than our recent weather. Saturday will also be warmer than the predicted three degrees on Sunday, the first rescheduled date.

If you attend the Saturday gathering in the parking lot of this rural Nerstrand hilltop setting, dress warm. Even 30 degrees can feel cold if the slightest wind blows and you’re not dressed properly. That includes wearing warm winter boots. Organizers also encourage guests to bring blankets, chairs and hot beverages. If you have snowshoes and want to walk the prairie, bring that footwear.

Whether you attend the bonfire and roast or not, I encourage you to visit the Valley Grove website to learn more about these Norwegian churches on the National Register of Historic Places. Valley Grove rates as one of my favorite area rural destinations. It’s a peaceful, quiet and beautiful place with a strong sense of history and heritage.

On bitterly cold January days like today I respect the hardiness of those early Norwegian settlers who endured much to make a new home in America, in rural Rice County. This morning when I shoveled snow from my driveway and sidewalk, I three times returned to the house to warm myself. Even wearing long johns under jeans, a heavy parka over my clothes, boots, a hat, mittens and a scarf wrapped around my neck and face, my fingers and toes began to numb. That’s a warning sign that, if ignored, could lead to frostbite.

So here I am, inside my cozy office, fleece throw tossed across my lap, thankful for the warmth of the overworked furnace. Thankful to have finished that shoveling in, according to the local radio station, a wind chill temp of -31 degrees. No wonder I felt cold.

When the Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast happens on Saturday, the temp will feel some 60 degrees warmer.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The happiest of birthdays for a 3-year-old (& his family) January 4, 2022

A special order rainbow birthday cake from Sweet Kneads by Farmington Bakery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

OH, TO BE THREE AGAIN. To see the world through a preschooler’s eyes. To view the world with unbridled excitement. To find wonder and excitement…in a rainbow birthday cake.

This past Saturday, I watched as my grandson Isaac focused on his beautiful rainbow-themed birthday cake crafted by Sweet Kneads by Farmington Bakery in Farmington. After posing for countless photos, he rested his arms, elbows bent, on the kitchen island and admired the work of culinary art at eye level. Isaac, encouraged by his mom (my eldest), chose a rainbow theme because he attends early childhood class in the “Rainbow Room.”

Shortly thereafter Isaac leaned over the counter, watching as his dad sliced into the cake, cutting the first thin piece for the birthday boy. Nearby, his older sister hovered. Soon we all savored the layered chocolate cake with strawberry filling.

There would be no blowing out candles in this pandemic year.

The stack of birthday gifts. Isaac noticed that I failed to put bows on the ones I gave him, far right. I won’t forget again. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Afterwards, we gathered in the living room to watch Isaac open his stack of gifts. I love how he first opened each card, not simply as a precursory gesture, but because he genuinely wanted to see the special wishes for him. He delighted in Mickey Mouse, three monkeys… But, by far, the greatest hit proved to be the musical “3” card with its happy birthday song. All gift unwrapping paused as he opened the card. Closed. Reopened. Celebratory music filled the room.

Isaac’s mom helps him open a card. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2022)

Finally, gift opening resumed. With lots of help from Isabelle. This year Isaac didn’t mind; next year he may. Among the gifts—a mini lantern to take to the “brown house” (Isaac’s label for an extended family lake cabin; his party location was listed as “the blue house”), a sensory exploration kit, puzzles, a sprawling farm play set, a suitcase and more. The “more” includes clothes from his other grandparents. I especially like the gold plaid flannel shirt. When you live in Minnesota, you can never have enough flannel. Even when you’re three.

What joy-filled hours we spent with the birthday boy. Randy and me. His uncle from Indiana, back in Minnesota for the holidays. His California grandparents and uncle and aunt now permanently relocated to Minnesota. His parents and sister. Only Isaac’s aunt and uncle from Wisconsin could not attend. Family embraced the birthday boy in a circle of love. To have those who love this little boy the most together to celebrate him swelled this grandma’s heart with endless happiness. What a joyful way to begin 2022.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling