Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesotan’s take on Wisconsin August 26, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

WHEN I TOOK A ROAD TRIP to Boston earlier this year, I learned something about my home state. Or rather, what others think of Minnesota. Whether in Indiana or New York or Massachusetts, folks reacted the same upon learning I was a Minnesotan. “It’s cold there,” they said.

Yes, it’s cold here. But not year-round. In the end, I decided, let them believe what they wish. Such opinions keep Minnesota from becoming densely populated like the Coasts.

Rolling hills and farms define the land east of La Crosse along Interstate 90 in the southwestern part of Wisconsin..

Rolling hills and farms define the land east of La Crosse along Interstate 90 in the southwestern part of Wisconsin..

But that got me thinking about how I view people and places, specifically Wisconsin and its residents. I’ve traveled there many times in the past five years to visit my daughter Miranda who lives on the northeastern side of the state.

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house?

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Here’s my outsider’s impression of Wisconsinites: fanatical about the Green Bay Packers, crazy about brat and fish fries, and lovers of cheese and beer. Wisconsin residents also seem particularly opinionated. And many love to hunt. Of course, I’m sweeping my neighboring state with a broad brush of generalities. Just like others do about Minnesota.

A tribute to Aaron Rodgers.

A tribute to Aaron Rodgers on a barn along Highway 10 west of Appleton. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Let’s examine my impressions more closely. I’ve seen Wisconsin fire hydrants painted Packers green and gold and brat buns and kettle corn in the same colors. And I’ve photographed a barn with this message: #12 is #1 G. If you’re not dressed in a Packers jersey on game day, well, you feel totally unfashionable. On game day weekends, Green Bay area hotels jack up the room prices as much as $100. My daughter clued me in on that.

The brat barn, not to be confused with a dairy or pig barn. You can purchase StoneRidge meats here.

The brat barn, stationed outside the Piggly Wiggly in Wautoma. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’m not a brat lover, so I could never pass as a Wisconsinite. From my observations, brat fries are the most popular fundraiser in this state with brat fry shacks stationed outside many grocery stores. Friday night fish fries are equally as popular.

Van Handel's Cheese Hut, also a gas station, is located in Appleton.

Van Handel’s Cheese Hut, also a gas station and convenience store, is located in Appleton.

Wisconsin definitely lives up to its name as the Dairyland State. Cheese stores abound. The funny thing, every time I travel to Wisconsin, Miranda asks me to bring cave-aged blue cheese from Faribault. So I stash wedges in a cooler and sneak Minnesota-made cheese across the border.

I photographed this signage along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

I photographed this signage along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

Like cheese, booze is readily available in Wisconsin. For example, you’ll find walk-in beer coolers at Kwik Trip convenience stores, co-joined grocery and liquor stores, and lots of breweries. Twelve Wisconsin communities rank in the top 20 drunkest cities in America. According to a May 2016 report on 24/7 Wall St, “Appleton is home to the largest share of binge and heavy drinkers in both Wisconsin and the country.”

A strong opinion expressed on a billboard along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

A strong opinion expressed on a billboard along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

On a recent visit, and in past visits, I’ve also noticed plenty of opinions posted roadside, sometimes on billboards and other times on homemade signs. In Redgranite, a homeowner recently scrawled “Send Hillary to prison” and placed the message board along busy State Highway 21. I’ve also noticed strongly worded messages in billboards posted along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

A pawn shop, somewhere along State Highway 21 between Omro and Tomah advertises guns.

A pawn shop, somewhere along State Highway 21 between Omro and Tomah advertises guns.

Finally, hunting seems a popular sport in Wisconsin based on the number of deer stands and deer processing places. While I’m not a big fan of hunting for sport, I do appreciate that hunting makes for fewer deer on roadways.

So…is my general assessment of Wisconsin fair and/or accurate? I do, by the way, really like Wisconsin, including the cheese and the beer.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advertisements
 

Wisconsin’s version of Frosty the Snowman December 9, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

WISCONSINITES ARE CRAZY about their Green Bay Packers. That I’ve learned in the four years since my second daughter moved to eastern Wisconsin.

From Packers billboards to barn signs, Packers apparel and green and gold brat buns in the grocery store, Packers craziness abounds.

My daughter photographed this display of Green Bay Packers themed holiday items at Shopko.

My daughter photographed this display of Green Bay Packers themed holiday items at Shopko.

You can even find holiday décor promoting this much beloved football team, as discovered by my daughter on a shopping trip to the local Shopko. She couldn’t resist texting an image of Cheesehead Green Bay Packers snowman ornaments.

A clearer image of the Packers Cheesehead snowman from the Green Bay Packers Shop.

A clearer image of the Packers Cheesehead snowman from the Green Bay Packers Shop.

Cheesy or cute? You decide.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo courtesy of Miranda Helbling
Second image from the online Green Bay Packers Shop

 

My impressions of East Ellsworth, Wisconsin November 18, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
A section of East Ellsworth's compact business district.

A section of East Ellsworth’s compact business district.

I DON’T KNOW QUITE HOW to describe East Ellsworth. It’s not a separate town of its own, as far as I can determine, but the eastern side of Ellsworth, Wisconsin.

Love the original bar name and signage.

Love the original bar name and signage.

Jaspers Eastender Bar & Grill.

Jasper’s Eastender Bar & Grill.

East Ellsworth is heavy on the drinking establishments with at least four bars within a stone’s throw of each other. My husband and I didn’t venture inside any of them on the October weekday afternoon we visited this community. But plenty of vehicles lined the streets, causing us to wonder where all those folks might be. Inside the bars?

Wisconsinites love their Packers as evidenced by this sign on the corner Packers bar, painted green and gold.

Wisconsinites love their Packers as evidenced by this sign on a corner bar, painted green and gold.

Packers' colors prevail even on the exterior of this corner bar.

Packers’ colors prevail even on the exterior of this corner bar.

Not that that’s good or bad. I’m just saying that as outsiders viewing East Ellsworth for the first time, we got the sense that this could be a pretty wild place on a weekend evening or during a Sunday afternoon Packers game.

Another shot of the East Ellsworth business district.

Another shot of the East Ellsworth business district.

Words like rugged and hardscrabble pop into my thoughts.

Businesses besides bars exist in East Ellsworth.

Businesses besides bars exist in East Ellsworth.

How's this for an exterior bar attraction.

How’s this for an exterior bar attraction.

This sign in a storefront window grabbed my attention. So small townish...

This sign in a storefront window grabbed my attention. So small townish…

We observed a business district that appeared rough around the edges. Grass wedged between spaces in the cracked and uneven sidewalk. Orange traffic barrels leaning. Pavement that looked more jigsaw puzzle than street. Aged buildings, some in need of paint touch-ups. The whole area appeared tired and worn.

I should clarify that this assessment should not be taken as harshly critical, simply as an honest reaction. First impressions can be powerful.

The Big Cheezy seems a fitting name for a business in cheese-producing Wisconsin.

The Big Cheezy seems a fitting name for a business in cheese-producing Wisconsin.

Even though my eyes noted the roughness, my spirit appreciates East Ellsworth. This place possesses small town Americana character. Strength of individuality, not found in cookie cutter chain businesses, exists here. I will take an East Ellsworth any day over a strip mall along a four-lane in Most Anywhere, USA.

What's not to love about this business sign?

Simple signage like this possesses a certain charm.

How about you?

FYI: Click here to read my previous post about Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery and its famous cheese curds.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A peek at Wisconsin’s Packers obsession on game day against the Vikings January 5, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:15 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

I PERHAPS SHOULD NOT even publish this post, being a Minnesotan and a Minnesotan who does not watch football.

But even I can’t ignore all the hype about the big play-off game this evening between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers.

Have I watched a football game yet this season? No.

Have I watched a single sporting event yet this season? Yes, I did watch parts of the summer Olympics.

Within that context, you might rightly surmise that I don’t care much about sports. While I can appreciate an individual athlete’s talent, sports as entertainment (for some, but not me), and the value of athletics in teaching discipline and teamwork and in making for a good physical work-out, I dislike the adulation of/obsession with athletes in our sports-crazed world.

Father and daughter Green Bay Packers fans from Appleton. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Father and daughter Green Bay Packers fans from Appleton. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

That segues us right into Wisconsin. Not until my second daughter moved to Appleton, 30 miles south of Green Bay, two years ago, did I understand just how devoted/obsessed/crazed Wisconsinites are about their Packers, but in a fun-loving sort of way.

For example, when my husband and I shopped at Appleton’s Festival Foods last October, the day before a Packers game, we came across a display of gold and green brat buns. We  just stood there and laughed and I wished I’d had my camera. Next time I’m buying some of those Packers buns and sneaking them into Minnesota. That would be easier than trying to do a food photo shoot at Festival Foods.

If you check out the Festival Foods’ website, you will note that the website colors are, not surprisingly, green and gold.

Game Time Kettle Korn. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Game Time Kettle Korn. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

A year ago, while shopping at Lamers Dairy in Appleton, I spied Game Time Kettle Korn, dyed green and gold, of course.

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house?

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And then there are the two neighboring houses in Wautoma, which is west of Oshkosh. I still wonder whether those houses were painted green and gold because of the Packers or because the homeowners especially like those colors. I’d have to vote for the Packers connection.

Near Omro along Wisconsin Highway 21, I saw this Packers-themed BEEF-FENSE! sign for McDonalds.

Near Omro along Wisconsin Highway 21, I saw this Packers-themed BEEF-FENSE! sign for McDonalds earlier last year. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Billboards offer another prime venue for Wisconsinites to express their devotion to the Packers.

A tribute to Aaron Rodgers.

A tribute to Aaron Rodgers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But perhaps the most creative public display of Packers support is along Wisconsin Highway 10 west of Appleton near the New London exit. Here, on a highly-visible barn, you’ll discover a tribute to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. We spotted that Packers notation last trip since we, once again, skirted the unending road construction on U.S. Highway 41 between Oshkosh and Appleton (and around Green Bay; be forewarned).

So, you see, as much as I don’t care about football, I find Wisconsin’s devotion to the Packers both amusing and entertaining.

Icy cold beer served up in a Minnesota Vikings mug.

Icy cold beer chilling in a snowbank in my Minnesota backyard. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Go, Vikings!

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What color is this Green Bay Packers barn? October 7, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:35 PM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

TRAVELING HOME from northeastern Wisconsin this afternoon while the Green Bay Packers were playing the Indianapolis Colts, I spotted this barn along Wisconsin Highway 10 near the New London exit.

The barn owner was paying homage to Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers with the message of “#12 is #1.” My husband told me that since I am clueless as to nearly anything regarding football except that Wisconsinites are crazy about their Packers.

Now, how crazy are they? I’ll let you decide. One of these barn photos shows the actual color of the barn. Which is it? You decide by casting your vote via a comment.

Go.

CHOICE #1: Is the barn painted Green Bay Packers green?

CHOICE #2: Is the barn painted Green Bay Packers gold?

CHOICE #3: Is the barn painted barn red?

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Did they crown her with a ……….? January 16, 2012

SATURDAY EVENING while flipping through television channels, I came across the talent portion of the Miss America Pageant.

I have not watched this competition in years so, when I saw that Miss Wisconsin was still in the running for the crown, I remained tuned in. I had to root for the Midwest girl. And now that my second daughter lives in eastern Wisconsin, I also have taken a greater interest in Minnesota’s neighbor.

When Miss Wisconsin, 23-year-old Laura Kaeppeler, was crowned Miss America, I fired a text off to my daughter.

ME: Miss Wisconsin was just crowned Miss America.

I photographed this couple modeling cheesehead hats in a Wisconsin cheese store last spring.

DAUGHTER:  Was she wearing a green dress w/ a yellow sash? Did they crown her w/ a cheesehead instead of a tiara?

(Note, dear readers, that I am, at this point, laughing so hard that I can’t immediately text back. My daughter is, of course, referring to the gold and green colors of the Green Bay Packers and to the popular cheesehead hats worn by many a Packers fan. Since we were on a humor roll, I decided to tell a little fib.)

ME:  She has a big G tattooed on her shoulder.

DAUGHTER:  Are u making that up?

ME:  What do u think? U live in Packerland.

DAUGHTER:  Lol. Well it was probably a wash off one then.

ME:  Maybe.

(Dear Wisconsinites, I know you possess a sense of humor or I would not have shared this exchange with you. I love your state and your Packers mania and your cheese and your Spotted Cow beer and your cranberry wine and your old barns and small towns and historic buildings and beautiful, changing countryside…)

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Packers mania as documented by a Minnesotan January 2, 2012

UNTIL MY SECOND DAUGHTER moved to Wisconsin a year ago, I never realized how fanatical Wisconsinites are about their Packers. Suffice to say that football doesn’t interest me, nor do sports for that matter, which would explain my ignorance on this topic.

But once I grasped the importance of the Green Bay Packers to Wisconsin residents, I decided to make my own sport of this football fanaticism by documenting Packers mania. Now, on every trip across the state to Appleton on Wisconsin’s eastern side, I pull out my camera and scout for signs of Packers craziness. And I mean signs. Literally.

Look at the three billboards I photographed along Wisconsin State Highway 21 and U.S. Highway 41 New Year’s weekend.

Near Omro along Highway 21, I saw this Packers-themed BEEF-FENSE! sign for McDonalds.

Look closely in the middle to read the Miller Lite "Catch great taste" Packers billboard posted along U.S. Highway 41 and photographed late Friday afternoon between Oshkosh and Appleton.

Now if I knew my Packers, I could tell you the name of this player featured on a billboard. Someone help me out here. Who is this player who needs a haircut?

Driving through the community of Wautoma, where my cousin Bev, a former Minnesotan, lives, I spotted these neighboring houses.

Packers fans' houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house?

Now, since I didn’t stop to ask the homeowners, I am uncertain whether these green and gold houses truly symbolize team loyalty or whether the paint color choices were totally based on individual hue preferences. What would you guess? I’d go with the gold as representing the Packers and the green as representing personal color preference.

Walk into almost any Wisconsin business, and you’ll likely see Packers merchandise. At Lamers Dairy in Appleton, where bottled milk is sold along with plenty of Wisconsin cheese, I found Game Time Kettle Korn. I also saw an employee wearing purple. Oh, don’t for a second think it was a Vikings t-shirt. The college freshman was sporting a Winona State University shirt, having crossed into Vikings land for his higher education.

Studio 213, a downtown Appleton business featuring art, handcrafted items and collectibles, yielded customized Bears traps meant to be set by Packers fans.

The traps I found at Studio 213 in downtown Appleton.

Game Time Kettle Korn from Medley Popcorn on the shelves at Lamers Dairy.

And then, of course, Packers jerseys, sweatshirts, t-shirts, jackets and more seem to define Wisconsin fashion. If you want to blend in with the locals, simply slip into Packers attire. They’ll never suspect you’re from Minnesota…

At several months old, baby Leo is already a Green Bay Packers fan.

One more tip: Best travel time through Wisconsin is during a Packers game.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling