Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Christmas joy along US Highway 14 December 22, 2020

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The joy of Christmas banners McNeilus Steel, Inc., Dodge Center, Minnesota.

HOLIDAY DECORATIONS SEND a message, lift spirits, bring joy. This year, more than ever.

Santa and his reindeer fly across the side of a McNeilus building.

I appreciate every homeowner, every city, every church, every nonprofit and every business that takes the time and effort to create Christmas joy via festive decorations.

McNeilus, a 70-plus-year-old family-owned business centered in Dodge Center, has four locations.

McNeilus Steel, Inc., headquartered in Dodge Center, uses its sprawling complex of buildings as a canvas for holiday art.

More holiday joy at McNeilus.

I photographed the company’s holiday decorations recently while traveling along US Highway 14. The business sits right next to the busy highway. I had to focus and shoot quickly from the passenger seat as the decorations flashed past our van.

Stretching along another building, more Christmas decor.

What a gift from this family-owned full-line steel distributor and processor to the thousands of motorists who pass by daily.

Another view of Santa and his reindeer.

During a year that’s challenged and stretched us in so many ways due to COVID-19, I’m grateful for scenes like these that share the Christmas spirit in such a visual, public way.

TELL ME: Have you spotted holiday decorations that bring you an added measure of joy this Christmas? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree December 5, 2020

A star shines atop a tree at Central Park as the sun sets Saturday evening.

THIS WEEKEND IN FARIBAULT, we would have celebrated Winterfest, complete with a lighted holiday parade, fireworks and more. But, due to COVID-19, organizers canceled the celebration. And rightly so.

Santa at Central Park.

But then the Faribault Parks and Recreation Department got creative, coming up with a Drive-by Tree Display as part of the community’s annual Hometown Holidays celebration, which typically centers at the library with activities and the arrival of Santa on a fire truck. None of that happened.

Decorated trees line the sidewalk in Faribault’s Central Park.
Each tree is uniquely decorated.
The display is just across the street from the historic cathedral.

This year we have Christmas trees—a line of 19 decorated evergreens stretched along one block on the east side of Central Park next to Second Avenue and across from the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.

We arrived around 4 pm with plenty of time to view the trees before dark.
Detailed ornaments grace many of the trees.
The lights turned on as the sun set.

Randy and I checked out the display around sunset Saturday evening. It’s beautiful. In daylight. And even more lovely when the sun colors orange into the sky and darkness edges in and the holiday lights switch on.

Randy walks ahead of me, northbound along the row of trees.
Among the many simple and beautiful toppers.
Looking to the south…

Meant to be a drive-by look-and-see, Randy and I opted to walk by. The timing of our visit meant few people in the park. We had our masks in hand if needed.

An angel tops a tree.
I loved viewing and photographing the wide variety of tree toppers.
Especially beautiful as the sun colored the sky.

Walking by and stopping at the trees provided a close up look of ornaments, of tree toppers, of all the details that made each tree a holiday delight.

A downtown hair salon decorated this tree.
A local church created a faith-themed tree.
Another tree sponsor: Faribault Heritage Days.

Each of the 19 trees was decorated by a business or non-profit or organization. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and effort put into decorating the trees, which will be given to St. Vincent DePaul and donated to needy families.

I’m reflected in a bulb as I photograph it.

But most of all, I appreciate this gift to my community. Now, more than ever, we need to feel uplifted, joyful, happy. And I felt all of those when I photographed these decorated trees.

A group participating in the Faribault Parks & Recreation Department’s version of The Amazing Race poses for a photo in Central Park.
Posted in Central Park for participants in Faribault’s The Amazing Race.
Santa is centered in the tree display.

If I would change one thing, it would be to leave these trees displayed for more than a few days. They went up on Thursday. Sunday, December 6, marks your last time to view the Drive-by Tree Display.

A star glows atop a tree.
The lovely trees drew both motorists who slowly drove by and also pedestrians.
The largest tree stands in front of the historic Central Park Bandshell.

What a gift. Thank you, Faribault Parks and Recreation and all who participated in what I hope will become an annual community tradition.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Focusing on festive Faribault December 11, 2015

Looking down Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

Looking down Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK a lot like Christmas in historic downtown Faribault, despite the lack of snow.

Peanuts characters adorn the former Kay's Floral building on the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60.

A Peanuts theme plays on the windows of the former Kay’s Floral building at the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60.

Evergreen boughs adorn wrought iron fences. Snowflake lights and holiday banners hang from vintage style street lamps. White lights drape trees, creating a festive mood. And, throughout the downtown, merchants showcase Christmas displays in storefront windows. There’s something magical about a business district transformed for the holidays.

Lights adorn trees in the downtown including next to the Signature Bar & Grill, Faribault's version of "Cheers." Here you'll find, in my opinion, the best pizza in town.

Lights wrap trees in the downtown including next to the Signature Bar & Grill, Faribault’s version of “Cheers.” Here you’ll find, in my opinion, the best pizza in town.

A snippet of the festive window display at Vohs Floors.

A snippet of the festive window display at Vohs Floors, which celebrates 70 years in business in 2016. Harry Vohs started the business in his living room. The second-generation flooring store is owned by his son, Karl, and Karl’s wife, Ann.

Even the clothing on the mannequins in The Crafty Maven display is vintage.

The Crafty Maven created this window display for the vintage theme division of the holiday window decorating contest. The display highlights businesses that were open in Faribault when sisters and Maven owners, Beth Westerhouse and Dee Bjork, were growing up here. Many of those businesses are no longer open. The Crafty Maven also will close in January.

Wednesday evening, in balmy weather that is more September-like than December, I grabbed my camera in an attempt to capture some of the magic that is Faribault. Mine is a city of some 23,000 that takes pride in its downtown, a place of aged, well-kept buildings. There’s a sense of history here, a sense of community connection. Small town appeal.

Santa at Vohs Floors.

Santa inside Vohs Floors.

From sleigh rides to visits with Santa to a holiday window decorating contest and more, there’s much to see and do. Faribault Main Street and downtown merchants are working hard to welcome locals and visitors alike with “Hometown Holidays” events.

The Paradise Center for the Arts presents "Twice the Cheer: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

Paradise Community Theatre presents “Twice the Cheer: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” this weekend at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

This Saturday, for example, you can participate in the following activities:

Keepers Antiques

Keepers Antiques shows some holiday glitz in its window display.

Wedding and party glam spotlighted at Weddings by Deb.

Wedding and party glam spotlighted at Weddings by Deb.

Festively dressed dolls snug at sewing machine at B & J Sewing Center.

Festively dressed dolls snug a sewing machine at B & J Sewing Center.

If you’ve never been to Faribault, come, spend an afternoon and/or evening here in a city that’s all decked out for the holidays. Meander through our one-of-a-kind shops. Enjoy the hospitality of friendly merchants. Celebrate the magic of the season in southeastern Minnesota.

BONUS PHOTOS:

This winter wonderland in the window of Dufour Cleaners was voted the all-around favorite in the holiday window decorating contest.

This winter wonderland in the window of Dufour’s Cleaners was voted the all-around favorite in the holiday window decorating contest. Thousands of cotton balls were used to create the snow in the scene.

Studio 14 Salon & Spa placed first in the Peanuts themed division of the window decorating competition.

Studio 14 Salon & Spa placed first in the Peanuts theme division of the window decorating competition.

Here's the other side of the Peanuts display at Studio 14.

Here’s the other side of the Peanuts display at Studio 14.

Charlie Brown and crew also occupy a window space at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

Charlie Brown and crew also occupy a window space at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The PCA won for best vintage theme.

Nearby is this holiday display at Paul Swenson Portraits.

Nearby is this holiday window at Paul Swenson Portraits.

A vintage sled rests in a front window at Vohs Floors,

A vintage sled rests in a front window at Vohs Floors.

The Crafty Maven created this window display for the vintage themed division of the holiday window decorating contest. The display highlights businesses that were in Faribault when Maven sisters and owners Beth Westerhouse and Dee Bjork were growing up here.

An overview of the vintage themed window display at The Crafty Maven.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Still in the Christmas spirit February 12, 2015

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I HAVE OFTEN WONDERED if leaving outdoor Christmas decorations outside until spring is a cold weather state phenomenon.

A snippet of the Christmas decorations on the Butler property.

A snippet of the Christmas decorations on the Butler property.

On a brief drive through Medford, Minnesota, Sunday afternoon on my way to a Chili Cook-off at Trinity Lutheran Church, I spotted a corner yard decorated as if Christmas, rather than Valentine’s Day, was only six days away.

The homemade decorations are my favorite.

The homemade decorations are my favorite.

Candy canes, penguins, mice, reindeer, elves, tipsy angels, carolers and more staked out spots in the snow.

Another view.

Decorations are both secular and religious.

The scene appeared chaotic with no cohesive theme. But who cares? I’m sure Garrett Butler takes great pleasure in sharing his Christmas love, as he’s done these displays for some 30 years. And I expect the people of Medford thoroughly enjoy his holiday lawn ornament collection.

My favorite decoration in the Butler yard.

My favorite decoration in the Butler yard.

But back to my original thought. Is it common in your part of the country for folks to leave Christmas holiday decorations in place until spring?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How my holiday decor celebrates family & the past December 29, 2014

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My Charlie Brown tree, an untrimmed Christmas tree purchased for $12 at a tree lot in Faribault.

I absolutely love my Charlie Brown tree, an untrimmed Christmas tree purchased for $15 at a tree lot in Faribault. It reminds me of the Christmas trees of my youth, which makes it perfect. Branches are sparse and adornment minimal.

I CONSIDER MYSELF A MINIMALIST. I don’t like clutter, an overabundance of stuff filling my house. Too much of anything makes me uneasy, unsettled.

So when I set about decorating my house for the Christmas holiday, I am selective. More remains in boxes than is pulled out for display.

I did not grow up with Christmas stockings. But my husband did. Randy's aunt made this stocking for him in the 1960s. It's missing a few decorations. But that adds to its character.

I did not grow up with Christmas stockings. But my husband did. Randy’s aunt made this stocking for him in the 1960s. It’s missing a few decorations. But that adds to its character.

The items I choose to set the holiday mood must meet my criteria of holding personal/family significance. The older, the better. Handmade ranks high. So does simplicity of lines.

Found in my mom's basement, this lovely pincecone Christmas tree crafted by my godmother, Aunt Rachel. This will now go up in my home each Christmas.

Found in my mom’s basement, this lovely pinecone Christmas tree was crafted by my godmother, Aunt Rachel, in the 1960s. This will now go up in my home each Christmas.

This year, after cleaning my mom’s house and acquiring some old “new” items, my appreciation of the past has deepened. And that is reflected in the items currently displayed.

Here’s a quick peek at my holiday décor and why these items are showcased in my home:

This paper Baby Jesus and an angel go on my Christmas tree each other. They are from the 1960s, from my Sunday School Christmas lesson.

This paper Baby Jesus and an angel go on my Christmas tree each other. They are from the 1960s, from my Sunday School Christmas lesson.

Behind the Christmas tree hangs this paint-by-number winter scene painted by my Great Grandma Anna.  This was the perfect addition to my paint-by-number collection.

Behind the Christmas tree hangs this paint-by-number winter scene painted by my Great Grandma Anna. This was the perfect addition to my paint-by-number collection and was acquired when my siblings and I were dividing my mom’s belongings. My sister got the painting matching this one.

This manager scene dates back to the late 1960s or early 1970s and was handcrafted by my maternal grandfather.

This manager scene dates back to the late 1960s or early 1970s and was handcrafted by my maternal grandfather. The figurines are made from Plaster of Paris.

While going through a box of cards my mom had saved, I found several Christmas cards that I made as a child. This year I displayed those cards, along with a vintage card from Schwans

While going through a box of cards my mom had saved, I found several Christmas cards that I made as a child. This year I displayed those cards, along with a 1971 vintage card from Schwan’s Ice Cream (right) on an old dresser in my living room. The chest of drawers was used by my dad as a child.

Around the corner on a vintage dresser from my husband's family, I display candles and an angel on a vintage mirrored tray set atop a vintage holiday linen.

Around the corner on a vintage dresser from my husband’s family, I display candles and an angel on a vintage mirrored tray set atop a vintage holiday linen.

Come December, I swap out my regular vintage drinking glasses for the Twelve Days of Christmas glasses. These were gifted to me by the furniture store right across the street from the newspaper office where I worked in 1978 in Gaylord. Since then, I've acquired the same set of holiday glasses for each of my four children at garage sales and an antique shop.

Come December, I swap out my regular vintage drinking glasses for the Twelve Days of Christmas glasses. These were gifted to me in 1978 by the furniture store  across the street from the newspaper office where I worked as a reporter and photographer in Gaylord. Since then, I’ve acquired the same set of holiday glasses for each of my three children at garage sales and an antique shop.

Three net angels dangle from the hallway light fixture. They are just like the angels my mom dangled from the living room doorway when I was growing up.

Three net angels dangle from the hallway light fixture. They are just like the angels my mom dangled from the living room doorway when I was growing up.

My oldest brother and I purchased this set of miniature plastic angels for our mom as a Christmas gift in the 1960s. Several years ago, my mom gave them back to me and I display them each Christmas. They are among my most treasured of holiday decorations.

My oldest brother and I purchased this set of miniature plastic angels from a small town hardware store for our mom as a Christmas gift in the 1960s. Several years ago my mom gave them back to me and I display them each Christmas. This angel band is among my most treasured of holiday decorations.

My father-in-law painted this holiday scene, which is why I treasure it. Plus, I really like the painting.

My father-in-law painted this holiday scene, which is why I treasure it. Plus, I really like the painting that hangs behind my couch.

Back in the day, when my dad's siblings and their families still gathered for the holidays, I received two candle Santas and a snowman from my Aunt Ardyce during a gift exchange. A match has never touched the  wicks and never will. I cherish these as much for their vintageness as the memories of so many Christmases past with aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandma and my own siblings and parents.

Back in the day, when my dad’s siblings and their families still gathered for the holidays, I received two candle Santas and a snowman from my Aunt Ardyce during a gift exchange. A match has never touched the wicks and never will. I cherish these as much for their vintageness as the memories of so many Christmases past with aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandma and my own siblings and parents.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating historic downtown Faribault, especially in her holiday finery December 21, 2011

Strolling along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault late on a Saturday afternoon in December.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON, while my husband shopped for dress shoes at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes in historic downtown Faribault, I meandered a block north to view Central Avenue dressed in holiday finery.

She’s stunning with sparkles and ribbons and Christmas reds and greens befitting any holiday party.

Keepers Antique Store decorated the wrought iron fencing on a downtown street corner as part of a "Winter Wonderland" themed decorating contest.

Honestly, I love the look and feel of my downtown. Even without the glitz and glamour of the holiday season, Faribault shines. The old brick buildings, the comforting small-town vibe, the ease of parking, the slow pace and the friendliness of shopkeepers appeal to me.

Next to the Signature Bar & Grill, a lovely holiday-bedecked street corner.

An elf outside The Crafty Maven, "featuring a unique mix of new and vintage items."

Quotes from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" portrayed in store-front windows.

I am always surprised when locals fail to appreciate downtown. How can you not value this treasure of a business district with arched windows, decorative trim and more on vintage buildings that impart an historic and homey feel to our town? Perhaps because I didn’t grow up here, I can truly see the beauty that native residents often overlook.

Another seasonally-decorated street corner charms visitors to Central Avenue.

I am always surprised, too, that Faribault hasn’t been discovered—like Red Wing or Stillwater or Wabasha or neighboring Northfield—as a destination city. The potential exists to draw tourists here into our specialty shops and arts scene. It’s not for a lack of effort, but…we’re not there yet.

I aimed my camera skyward as the setting sun caught the tops of historic buildings along Central Avenue.

First, we need to sell our own residents on the value of Central Avenue, our Main Street. Do we truly realize how fortunate we are to have a solid, core downtown like ours with a deep history and an inviting character?

Mega malls and strip malls and Big Box retailers—and I shop at those places, too—have nothing on Main Street.

Yes, I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, meaning my perspective evolves from memories of shopping in a downtown, not a mall.

When I stroll along Central Avenue in Faribault, nostalgia accompanies me. And she’s a mighty fine friend to walk with, especially during the holiday season.

Outside Keepers Antique Store, a rustic vignette charms.

Across the street at That Scrapbooking Place, a punch of color on the front window backed by a holiday display and reflections of historic buildings.

Sweet, dreamy gingerbread houses fill the display window at Sweet Spot, a Central Avenue candy and ice cream shop. I love how the reflection of an old building across the street melds with the gingerbread house.

IF YOU’VE NEVER been to Faribault, consider a trip here. We’re located along Interstate 35, just an hour south of Minneapolis. You’ll find antique, craft, candy, cheese and many other specialty shops and businesses, hometown eateries, as well as an arts center, along Central Avenue. If you have a specific question about Faribault, ask and I’ll answer.

LOCALS,  if you haven’t been downtown in awhile, I’d encourage you to park your vehicle, walk and appreciate your town. She’s all glammed up right now and a wonder to behold.

READERS, PLEASE CHECK back on Thursday for more Central Avenue holiday-themed images.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling