Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Cheers to the Norwegians of Nisswa October 16, 2020

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This sign marks the way to homes along Norway Lane, Nisswa, Minnesota.

I DON’T RECALL the precise wording of the signs. But the homemade notices posted in strategic high traffic areas in Nisswa proved catchy enough that Randy and I simply had to find the garage sale.

Unfamiliar with this central Minnesota community (we were staying at a nearby lake cabin), we relied on the signage (not GPS) to reach our destination along Norway Lane.

The official street signs.

Ah, yes, we Minnesotans are proud of our heritages and this street name proved that. I quickly spotted a second ethnic-themed sign for an intersecting street. Oslo Way.

We continued a short distance down Norway Lane until a handwritten sign on a mailbox alerted us to the garage sale location:

The humorous sign telling us we’d reached the garage sale.

Although there was no free beer (maybe because it was still early afternoon and not yet happy hour on this Friday), I found a snowsuit and light jacket for our 21-month-old grandson. I regret not purchasing the toy work bench playset for $10. My daughter later told me I should have bought it. Sigh.

Lesson learned. Trust your gut if you think you should buy something for your grandchild at a garage sale. If the parents don’t want it, they can always give it away.

And I learned one more thing. At least one person living along Norway Lane defies the stereotypical definition of Norwegians as reserved and stoic. Cheers!

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The power of a Turtle October 1, 2020

 

Leonardo, up close in Zimmerman, Minnesota.

 

THE SIGHT OF LEONARDO standing strong and tall at the wheel of a motorboat left me feeling simultaneously nostalgic and amused.

Amused because, well, who expects a fictional turtle piloting a parked boat in Zimmerman, Minnesota? The scene caused me to laugh. And, today more than ever during these unsettling and difficult times, I need laughter.

I need laughter to loosen muscles that are too often tight. A head that too often hurts from hearing too much hatred and rhetoric. I need this momentary visual escape from reality.

 

Figurines displayed at a past toy exhibit at the Steele County History Center, Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And so, as I photographed this cartoon character manning a stationery boat in a residential neighborhood, I also remembered how my daughters—children of the 80s— watched the superhero cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And embraced the four turtles named after Italian Renaissance artists. Leonardo. Michelangelo. Donatello. Raphael.

They played with Turtle figurines, sang the cartoon theme song, even celebrated a birthday with a home-crafted Turtle cake, although I no longer recall which character or which daughter.

The masked hero in the boat is Leonardo, the leader of the quartet and named for artist, engineer and scientist Leonardo da Vinci.

 

A design allowing actors to fly across a stage, included in the “Machines in Motion” exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

In 2012, I toured an exhibit, “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion,” at The History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin. To see a show originating in Florence, Italy, here in the Midwest was a gift. The exhibit featured 40 operating machines built from da Vinci designs. Amazing. (I encourage you to check out my photos and story about “Machines in Motion” by clicking here.)

 

One last look at the unusual “public art” in Zimmerman.

 

Now, eight years later, I am reminded of that museum exhibit. I am reminded, too, of my daughters, now grown into adulthood and one with children of her own. I am reminded also that, in the chaos and uncertainties of today, I can find a reason to laugh. Thank you, Zimmerman boater, for placing Leonardo inside your boat parked on your front lawn. You made me laugh.

TELL ME: What has caused you to laugh recently?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Don’t be an outlaw in Northfield: Protect the herd August 2, 2020

In the front display window of a downtown Northfield, Minnesota, business.

 

SUPERHEROES mask up.

 

The image represents the James-Younger Gang.

 

As do outlaws.

 

The reason the Rare Pair gives for wearing face masks.

 

And those who love others.

 

“Protect the herd” plays off the city’s “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” slogan. Northfield is home to Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges.

 

When I walked through downtown Northfield—the place of Cows, Colleges and Contentment—on Friday evening, I intentionally looked for signage on Minnesota’s new face mask mandate. This college city did not disappoint. I found signs ranging from serious to humorous.

 

More humor in a COVID-19 sign that relates to safe practices outdoors.

 

I especially welcomed those that made me laugh, something we all need in these days of living with COVID-19, when even leaving our homes sometimes seems like venturing into the Wild Wild West.

 

Site of the famous bank raid, now a museum.

 

Tour the museum and learn the story of the bank raid.

 

Northfield Historical Society face mask humor..

 

At the Northfield Historical Society, the historians draw on Northfield’s claim to fame—the defeat of the James-Younger Gang during an 1876 robbery of the First National Bank—to get across the mask mandate message. Please Don’t Be an Outlaw, states the message on museum doors.

 

A message posted on the front door of Antiques of Northfield.

 

At Antiques of Northfield, a personal note from Carole about the store’s temporary closure made me simultaneously laugh at her comment and then reflect. Too many of our seniors have died as a result of contracting COVID-19.

 

The sign on the door of The Contented Cow, a British style pub in downtown Northfield.

 

Some mask signs are more straightforward, like at The Contented Cow, with a please added to the request.

 

This Northfield business wants to stay open.

 

At a home furnishings and floor covering store, they want customers to mask up so businesses can stay open, as good a reason as any for masks.

 

The #1 reason to mask up.

 

I appreciate, too, the signage that states the clear and obvious scientific reason for wearing a face mask during a global pandemic: for our health & yours.

 

For those who forgot their masks… Note that a new Minnesota state law went into effect on August 1, raising the age to buy tobacco to 21. These signs were photographed on July 31.

 

At the tobacco shop, customers can even get a free mask inside the store.

 

Customers can’t possibly miss all the signage at this Northfield business.

 

Whatever it takes. We all need to get the message loud and clear that masks help stop the spread of this virus. Yeah, they’re uncomfortable and hot and diminish social interaction. But we can manage those minor inconveniences because, you know, this is something simple we can do to show our care for others and protect each other.

 

Just do it. Wearing a mask is required in indoor public places in Minnesota.

 

And masks are mandatory in Minnesota, along with 32 others states (as of this writing).

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Way to go, Wisconsin DNR March 28, 2020

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources image

 

IF EVER WE NEED LAUGHTER, it’s now. And the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources delivered this week with A CHEESY GUIDE TO KEEPING YOUR SOCIAL DISTANCE OUTDOORS.

The second daughter, who lives in Wisconsin, where a “Safer at Home” order is now in place, texted the graphic to me this morning. While reading this message, I laughed out loud. Repeatedly.

This additional info accompanied the guide posted on the DNR Facebook page:

Hey Cheeseheads! Wisconsin’s state parks and trails are open for you to OutWiGo and enjoy some fresh air. If you head out, we encourage you to stay close to home and within your community.

Social distance is key to slowing COVID-19. Stay at least 6 feet away from others – but don’t forget about the air fives!

Kudos to the creative who came up with this idea. I always appreciate a savvy and fun media campaign. Humor resonates with people. They remember. They talk about it.

The Facebook posting certainly has people talking in the comments section. And it’s not good. Seems people are flocking to state parks and not a lot of social distancing is happening. Wisconsin isn’t the only place with this problem. I’ve heard from friends about overcrowding issues at North Carolina state parks (now closed) and even in Minnesota.

You can only do so much, I suppose. Thank you, Wisconsin DNR, for doing your best and for making me laugh today.

 

In need of laughter, a few sort of humorous stories March 24, 2020

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The grandkids play hide-and-seek behind curtains, while in Grandma and Grandpa’s care. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2020.

 

THESE DAYS I FEEL like I’m on information overload regarding COVID-19. That’s no surprise given my journalism background. I need to be informed. It’s just the way I am.

In addition to the extra media reports I’m consuming, I’ve also reached out to my family more. My eldest daughter and her family live in the Twin Cities metro. My other daughter and her husband and my son live in Madison, Wisconsin. All in major metro areas with many cases of the coronavirus. Wisconsin is now under a shelter-in-place order. I expect that in Minnesota soon.

I miss my family. My grandchildren, especially. But we are not seeing each other to protect one another. It’s the right thing to do. I expect many of you are in the same situation. I suggested to Randy that we drive to the metro and wave to the grandkids from outside their home. He thought I was joking. I was sort of serious.

For now I settle for updates from the daughter about Isabelle, almost four, and Isaac, just over a year old. Here’s a text she sent several days ago:

Yesterday the kids were pretending to go to the store to buy hand sanitizer. Izzy said, “Come on, Isaac, let’s go buy hand sanitizer.” And then they would carry their bottles around.

It’s funny. But yet it’s not.

From my Wisconsin daughter, I got this text the other evening:

John and I are going to get out of the house and go for our daily “apocalypse drive”…so strange to see barely any cars on a Friday night.

It’s funny. But yet it’s not. They are now without jobs.

Then there’s this idea from Brad, a native Minnesotan now living in the South, who suggested to me and some of his family members that we take up this activity to fill unexpected time at home:

Find your encyclopedia. Every day look up one of the Presidents, starting with George Washington. Was most interesting. Got through FDR.

One of his family members replied:

What’s an encyclopedia?

Now that’s funny.

#

IF YOU HAVE a personal humorous story to share, please do so in the comments section. I’m looking for stories from your life, not from a media report or other source. I need to laugh today.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mixed message December 3, 2019

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AS A WORDSMITH, I’m especially drawn to signage, including this one spotted Sunday afternoon along Division Street in downtown Northfield.

I laughed given the falling snow, the snow banked on the front of the pick-up truck parked curbside and the mixed message sent.

Cacti are not warm and fuzzy, although the environment in which they grow is warm, even hot. I suppose that was the idea—to get us Minnesotans thinking about warmer places like Little Joy Coffee with its hot brew.

While the words and art seem especially mismatched to me, I noticed, photographed and remembered them. Thus, marketing accomplished.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota or North Dakota? November 1, 2019

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TRAVELING ALONG INTERSTATE 90 in southeastern Minnesota about 10 miles from La Crosse, Wisconsin, I noticed this sign. And I laughed. I was nowhere near North Dakota. Yet this road sign appeared to indicate otherwise, seemingly directing motorists to North Dakota.

Dakota is a town of some 325 in Winona County, Minnesota just off I-90.

Signs can be simultaneously informative and confusing. I love when I spot such signage to break the monotony of a long road trip.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The unlucky leprechaun April 17, 2019

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2015.

 

NEARLY 40 YEARS after I left my first newspaper reporting job, I still receive The Gaylord Hub each week. The third-generation family-owned Hub holds a special spot in my heart. Here I initially put my journalism education to work, covering the southern Minnesota town of Gaylord and surrounding areas in Sibley County.

Part of my job included checking reports at the Sibley County Sheriff’s office where I sometimes had to push to access public records. Being young, a woman and the first full-time staff writer (outside of family) put me in the occasional challenging position of not being taken seriously. Locals quickly learned, though, that I would stand my ground and intimidation didn’t work with me. Jim Deis, the editor and publisher, always backed me up and for that I was grateful.

All that serious talk aside, I met plenty of wonderful folks who embraced my writing and photography. The diversity of my job ranged from writing a feature about current WCCO TV sports director Mike Max and his brother Marc’s sizable baseball card collection to covering massive church, school and chicken barn fires to filing through initial complaint reports.

But I don’t ever recall anything quite as unique or humorous as the story I read in the April 4 issue of The Hub under a column labeled Sibley County District Court. As I read the story aloud to my husband, I couldn’t stop laughing. Here’s the line that prompted my laughter:

According to court documents, the Sibley County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to Westgate Apartments in Gaylord at 3:55 a.m. on March 25 for a complaint of a man dressed as a leprechaun running up and down the halls and creating a disturbance.

My first questions: Why would a man dress as a leprechaun? It wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day. And what exactly does a leprechaun wear? Green clothes, hat, pointy shoes?

I read on that the responding deputy spotted a man “with something red on his head” driving a vehicle out of the parking lot. The driver took off but was eventually stopped, admitted to drinking and also driving with a canceled license. He’s now been charged with multiple crimes.

Randy listened without interruption. Then he offered this assessment: “Sounds like his luck ran out.” And that would be right.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The humor of Hendrum November 7, 2018

The Hendrum welcome sign is posted next to the dike.

 

WHEN MY FRIEND Tammy gave me directions to her family’s home in Hendrum, she failed to give me the exit number. Not that I expected multiple exits into this community along U.S. Highway 75. But there, on the sign welcoming me into this Red River Valley town of some 300, I read Welcome HENDRUM MINNESOTA Next 9 exits.

 

 

I laughed. Simply laughed at the absurdity of nine exits. Already I appreciated the humor of Hendrum, further expounded in the message If You Lived Here You’d be Home Now! Indeed, I would. But my home lies about five hours to the south and east in southern Minnesota, far from this community 30 miles north of Fargo-Moorhead.

 

Entering Hendrum from the south.

 

Exits into Hendrum are not exits in the sense that most would think of exits. Rather, Hendrum’s exits are the streets spoking off Highway 75 with the grain elevator, Red River and North Dakota to the west

 

 

 

 

and the business district, school, Lutheran church and residential neighborhoods to the east.

Tammy told me if we passed the dike protecting Hendrum from Red River flooding, we’d driven too far north. Only a line of trees separates my friend’s backyard from the grassy earthen dike ringing this small town. Her kids use the dike as a sledding hill. Good luck finding a natural hill anywhere near here. This place is flat.

 

Inside the entry into my friend’s house stands this statue of Bigfoot. It was a gift to her husband, who appreciates this creature that may or may not have been sighted in the area. I saw Bigfoot art on a nearby farm site. Whatever the truth, this Bigfoot art fits well with the humor of Hendrum.

 

But what Hendrum lacks perhaps in landscape appeal, it makes up for in appealing to those wanting a quiet place in which to raise a family. The median age of Hendrum residents is 37. I was delighted to see that my friend’s younger children built stick and log forts and tended chickens in a backyard coop. They’re actually outdoors, using their imaginations, playing, having fun.

 

 

This family of seven could be the poster family of Hendrum, fitting the demographic target market. The town’s website, banners EVERYTHING YOUR FAMILY NEEDS TO SHINE. That would be a low student-to-teacher ratio (although my friend’s kids are homeschooled), a strong and loyal local economy, and no traffic. I can vouch for that lack of traffic congestion.

The creative who put together the city’s website recognizes the strengths of this town:

Our commuters bask in their own quiet retreat, leaving the traffic and hustle in the rearview mirror every day as they head home.

Unlike other small communities surrounding Fargo-Moorhead, Hendrum resides on a quiet MN highway—not a thoroughfare of hurried weekend traffic.

We’re a small community of farmers, bankers, teachers and friends, and we’d love to show you around our neighborhood. We’re the first town with a speed limit north of Moorhead on Highway 75. Come take a tour… you’ll be home before you know it.

Just take one of the nine exits into town…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond salad, a Minnesota Halloween horror story October 31, 2018

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I’M NOT A BIG FAN of scary anything. Reality is scary enough. So if you want to talk about things that go bump in the night, exclude me from the conversation.

Yet, when Halloween rolls around, it’s pretty difficult to avoid that which frightens. Right now, as I write, I look out my office window across the street to a Scream face. I’ve never seen the movie, or whatever, that features this character. But I recognize the image as something meant to frighten.

I can’t exactly stride across the street and yank the cloth from my neighbor’s front yard tree. That wouldn’t be nice. But if I had little kids…

Kid talk brings to mind a particularly memorable Halloween from my youth. As a member of the Junior Legion Auxiliary, I attended a Halloween party held in the basement of the local veterinarian’s house. Can you see where this is going?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of grapes in a Minnesota vineyard. Grapes used for wine, not salad.

 

The vet’s daughter blindfolded me and then asked me to touch something. “Cow eyeballs,” she said. Now you can only imagine how horrifying that experience to an impressionable elementary-aged girl. As my fingertips landed on the cold orbs and those frightening words were uttered, I shrieked. Cold grapes feel an awful lot like cow eyeballs, let me tell you. Not that I’ve ever touched a cow’s eyeballs.

Likewise, cold spaghetti feels like guts. I don’t know that I touched anything else in that vet’s basement after that. But the experience has stuck with me as a particularly memorable Halloween.

And, yes, I eat grapes.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear your memorable Halloween stories. Keep in mind that I’m not a big fan of scary.

NOW, IF YOU’RE WONDERING about the title of this piece, flash back to November 2014 when a New York Times reporter wrote an article listing the Thanksgiving recipes that “evoke each of the 50 states.” For Minnesota, he chose Grape Salad. That unleashed The Grapes of Wrath from Minnesotans who found that an absurd choice for our state. Most of us, but not all, had never heard of, let alone eaten, Grape Salad. Oh, the horror of eating cow’s eyeballs.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling