Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A community Christmas welcome at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School December 13, 2016

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

WHENEVER I VISIT the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School on Faribault’s east side, I feel like I am walking onto an East Coast college campus. This place of aged stone buildings presents a scholarly image that seems more post-secondary than prestigious college prep school. Known for producing hockey legends, SSM has a current enrollment of nearly 500 students in grades 6 – 12. Most board here.

Window sills, nooks, hallways and more are decorated for the Christmas Walk.

Window sills, nooks, hallways and more are decorated for the Christmas Walk.

Some of those students mingled and participated in Shattuck’s Campus Christmas Walk, an annual holiday gift to the community. I try to attend each December, enjoying the figure skating show, music and treats and the opportunity to view the historic buildings in holiday splendor.

The decorated entry of Shumway Hall.

The decorated entry of Shumway Hall.

The historic buildings feature lots of stained glass windows.

The historic buildings feature lots of stained glass windows.

Inside the historic dining hall.

Inside the historic dining hall.

The dark handcrafted woodwork, the sagging stairs, the stained glass windows and more speak to the history of SSM. The school traces its roots to an Episcopal mission school and seminary established in 1858.

Students study in a newer area of the campus.

Students at a computer station in a newer area of the campus.

But today it’s every bit technologically modern within aged walls. There’s a strong vibe of arts and culture and academics. That Shattuck welcomes locals like me onto campus is a good thing in building community relations and exposure of all this school offers. I couldn’t help but think while at Shattuck on Saturday how much my son would have liked this educational setting and the challenges offered therein. He graduated last spring from Tufts University in greater Boston.

Skaters from Shattuck-St. Mary's Figure Kating Center of Excellence presented a Christmas Spectacular on Ice.

Skaters from Shattuck-St. Mary’s Figure Kating Center of Excellence presented a Christmas Spectacular on Ice.

As I watched the figure skating show, I swayed to “Feliz Navidad” and other holiday tunes while talented skaters glided and twirled across the ice in their sparkly sequined costumes. I remembered then how much I once loved to skate on a bumpy pond in the shadow of a small town grain elevator.

Signs directed visitors.

Signs directed visitors.

In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests.

In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests.

A lone musician performs.

A lone musician performs.

A short walk from the ice arena, I listened to string instrument solos, delighting in that music and the holiday tunes of carolers performing in an entry hallway. And I remembered how I once stood on the stage of my high school dressed as a Dickens caroler with a yellow posterboard bonnet wrapped around my head.

A sizable crowd of kids and adults gathered for holiday treats and kids' activities.

A sizable crowd of kids and adults gathered for holiday treats and kids’ activities.

Cookie decorating delighted the kids.

Cookie decorating delighted the kids.

Farther down, in the Morgan Refectory (the dining hall), kids munched on cookies they’d decorated, green and red frosting outlining their lips. They also created Christmas ornaments. I paused with my husband to sip a cup of hot chocolate, trying to warm myself after an hour in a cold ice arena. Years ago, after completing farm chores, I would thaw my numb fingers over the milkhouse stove.

A prop at the figure skating show.

A prop at the figure skating show.

These nutcrackers fascinated the kids.

These nutcrackers fascinated the kids.

The sight of kids sticking their fingers inside the mouths of oversized nutcrackers caused me to chuckle. I recall doing the same decades ago with a nutcracker my sister received from her godfather. There’s something about a nutcracker…

I entered the Shattuck complex through a rear entry and shot this from inside, showing the stone exteriors of campus buildings.

I entered the Shattuck complex through a rear entry and shot this from inside, showing the stone exteriors of campus buildings.

A reading nook in an addition.

A reading nook in an addition.

An ornament sparkles on one of many Christmas trees on campus.

An ornament sparkles on one of many Christmas trees on campus.

And there’s something about Shattuck during the Campus Christmas Walk. Even without any kids in tow, I experienced the holiday magic of this historic place.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Decorating my home with holiday memories December 24, 2015

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VISIT MY HOME DURING THE CHRISTMAS SEASON, and you won’t find Martha Stewart perfect holiday decorations. Rather, you will discover an eclectic mix of Nativity scenes, Santas, angels and more. There’s no color scheme, no continuity, except in the memories.

This was crafted by my Grandpa Bode decades ago.

My Grandpa Bode crafted this Nativity set decades ago. He made them for family and also sold them.

Memories thread through each item I display. My maternal grandfather crafted the Nativity scene positioned atop the living room entertainment center. He built and painted the stable and then molded Baby Jesus and the rest of the Bethlehem crew from Plaster of Paris. Mary’s right hand is broken. The camel is missing. But I don’t care. This is my most treasured of scenes depicting Christ’s birth.

A beautiful cross-stitch of Baby Jesus.

A beautiful cross-stitch of Baby Jesus.

Last year my mom, who collected Nativities, gave nearly all of them to her children and grandchildren after moving into an assisted living apartment. I chose a grouping of six Nativity cards cross-stitched by my cousin Traci and mailed each Christmas. My mom was also an avid cross-stitcher, thus these hold double significance.

This angel candle is more than 50 years old.

This dusty angel candle is more than 50 years old.

I also cherish three angel candles, which belonged to Mom. Fire has never, nor will it ever, touch the wicks. The angels are dusty and not all that beautiful. But I remember Mom setting them out every Christmas.

The largest of the candles in my vintage holiday collection.

The largest of the candles in my vintage holiday collection, Santa stands about five inches tall.

Likewise, I set out Santa and snowman candles acquired in the early 1970s at a family holiday party. They are from my Aunt Ardyce. Like the candle angels, these will never see a flame.

Homemade cards, especially from my kids, are cherished.

Homemade cards, especially from my kids (now grown), are cherished.

And then there’s the Christmas card crafted by my kids. I expect Miranda magic markered the scene signed by all three. It’s a treasure from their childhoods. Such sweetness.

Charlie Brown would be proud of my Christmas tree choice.

Charlie Brown would be proud of my Christmas tree choice. The tree is not yet fully decorated in this image.

Finally, the Christmas tree in our house is chosen not for its perfect shape, but rather for its resemblance to the tree of my childhood Christmases. (The husband, kindly and wisely, agrees with my choice.) Ours is a “Charlie Brown” tree. Uneven and with bare spaces, the short-needled tree plays on my nostalgic memories of the tiny tree that sat on the end of our Formica kitchen table. The tree seemed plenty big back when I was a kid living in a farmhouse much too small for a family of seven. Yet, the tinseled tree seemed magically perfect. Just like my $15 tree, hauled from Duluth and purchased in a Faribault tree lot.

Tell me about your holiday décor. How do you decorate for the Christmas season? Do you display any items that hold special significance?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Instead of following the star in the east… December 21, 2012

WHO ARE THESE

Wise woman 2

three

Wise woman 1

mysterious

Wise woman 3

women?

The holiday window display at The Crafty Maven, 212 Central Avenue, Faribault.

The holiday window display at The Crafty Maven, 212 Central Avenue, in historic downtown Faribault.

They are “The Three Wise Women,” you know, the women who could have altered the biblical account of the three wise men traveling to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child.

Sometimes it’s fun to ponder what may have been.

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling