Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

On the road in Wisconsin: Deer & cows & more, oh, my June 4, 2018

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About to enter Wisconsin at La Crosse.

 

SINCE MY SECOND DAUGHTER moved to Wisconsin seven, or maybe it’s eight, years ago, I’ve grown to love this neighbor to the east of Minnesota.

 

Crossing the Mississippi River with Minnesota to the right, Wisconsin to the left.

 

A particularly scenic vista heading west toward La Crosse and eventually Minnesota.

 

 

I like Wisconsin’s rural character, its rolling hills and bluffs and open farmland.

 

East of La Crosse.

 

 

 

Cow cut-outs line a ballpark fence in Mauston. Can you correctly answer the dairy trivia question? Check the end of this post for the answer. And also check back tomorrow to learn all about this herd of cows.

 

I like the quaint farm sites, the cows grazing and the proud promotion of dairy. This is, after all, the Dairyland State.

 

A cheese-promoting mouse statue along the interstate.

 

I’m amused by the obsession with brat frys and cheese and the Green Bay Packers.

 

I’ve never seen so many dead deer as in Wisconsin, except in Pennsylvania. Live ones, too. On the return trip to Minnesota from Madison, I counted 17 dead deer along the interstate. I likely missed some. I didn’t count the miscellaneous roadkill. On the trip out, I saw even more dead deer, but didn’t tally those.

 

I’m not so amused, though, by all the dead deer along roadways.

 

This message flashed multiple times on signs along the interstate on Memorial Day weekend. During the 538-mile round trip to Madison and back to Faribault, I saw only one law enforcement officer, a policeman just outside Kenyon, MN. I wish one would have been around to catch the driver of the car that passed a semi on the left shoulder of the interstate in Wisconsin.

 

Nor do I find the drinking culture particularly positive.

 

As expected, there’s plenty of road construction mixed into summer travel.

 

But all in all, I find Wisconsin an interesting and beautiful state with small town nuances that often delight me.

 

The Wisconsin Dells, with its many waterparks, is a popular tourist destination. Here vehicles are backed up along the interstate following a serious car crash. I was thankful we were on the opposite side. Traffic gridlock stretched for many miles.

 

I am now in the process of discovering a region of Wisconsin previously unvisited. That’s the Madison area. In the past, visits to my daughter took me off the interstate at Tomah and across the state to Oshkosh and then a bit north into the Fox Valley. Now she lives in Madison, a Memorial Day weekend destination. It’s a four-hour drive, an hour less than the previous drive. But it’s still scenic and so quintessential Wisconsin.

 

FYI: Please check back for more posts from Wisconsin, including one on those cows in Mauston and several posts from Madison. All photos here were taken along Interstates 90 and 94, except the image in Mauston.

TRIVIA QUESTION ANSWER: D. Holstein

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

American pride on the road May 30, 2018

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I GAVE THIS SEMI driver a thumbs up as Randy and I passed him along Interstate 94/90 near the Wisconsin Dells Saturday morning.

 

 

To see such visible public patriotism and pride on Memorial Day weekend pleased me.

The driver nodded and smiled and, I expect, appreciated the appreciation.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My current favorite national marketing campaign December 29, 2016

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mandarins-ad-campaign-billboard-67

 

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO a billboard along Interstate 94 in Rogers popped out at me. Not like a jack-in-the-box or a creepy clown. But visually.

The simplicity of the graphic design and the short, powerful message of “Good choice, kid.” made this advertisement noticeable among all the roadside clutter.

This Wonderful halos billboard is part of a $30 million ad campaign focusing on kids who choose mandarins over something less desirable. So I learned while googling the slogan. To totally understand this, you have to view the television spots that are part of this campaign. Kids star in videos with storylines that present a temptation—like sleeping over in a creepy doll-filled mansion or running away to join the circus—and the obvious better choice of a mandarin.

The ads are quirky, funny and, yes, most assuredly memorable. To the creative forces behind the Wonderful Halos newest marketing endeavor, well done.

TELL ME: What ad campaigns, past or present, do you consider especially well done and memorable? Why?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Interstate juxtapositions December 7, 2016

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winter-weather-and-indoor-pool-sign-in-rogers

 

I APPRECIATE THE JUXTAPOSITIONS in this image I shot recently along Interstate 94 by Rogers.

The dusting of snow, the directive to stay on track during winter weather via Northstar and then the sign directing motorists to the Super 8 indoor heated pool.

This is, oh, so Minnesota.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Goin’ to the lake June 27, 2016

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Boat, 1 ahead on I-94

 

TRAVELING TO CENTRAL and northern Minnesota on a summer weekend, motorists expect heavy traffic as folks head to lake cabins and resorts. It’s a given. Campers, trucks pulling boats and loaded-down vehicles cram roadways. Ditto for the return trip home Sunday afternoon.

 

Boat, 5 pulled along I-94

 

Even knowing this, I did not expect to see a semi truck transporting an oversized boat along Interstate 94 between Monticello and Clearwater on Saturday morning. As traffic slowed in both lanes, my husband and I wondered if we’d encounter an accident, road construction or what.

 

Boat, 7 close-up of along I-94

 

And then, as speeds picked up again, we saw the or what—the ginormous boat carried by the semi.

That led to speculation: What lake in central/northern Minnesota can handle a boat of this size? How will the owner get this boat into a lake? And what is the value of this boat?

 

Boat, 9 along I-94 in side mirror

 

Randy, who grew up in central Minnesota, unlike me a native of (mostly) lake-less southwestern Minnesota, speculated on Gull Lake near Brainerd as the boat’s destination. Right or wrong, we’ll never know. We lost track of the watercraft after sneaking ahead of the boat-towing-semi just before it crossed the Mississippi River bridge at Clearwater.

IF YOU’RE A MINNESOTAN, I’d like to hear a story about driving north on a summer weekend. If you’re not from Minnesota, tell me about traffic in your state on the weekends, perhaps areas you avoid or wish you could avoid.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A rural Minnesota teacher takes action when her students need books May 12, 2016

This prairie chicken statue celebrates the real prairie chickens which reside in the Rothsay area.

This prairie chicken statue celebrates the real prairie chickens which reside in the Rothsay area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2013.

FORTY MILES EAST of Fargo, an 18-foot tall, 9,000-pound statue marks Rothsay as The Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota. Without the kitschy roadside attraction, travelers likely would consider this just another small town along Interstate 94.

Downtown Rothsay is ag-oriented. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Downtown Rothsay is ag-oriented. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2013.

A few years ago, I popped into Rothsay. It’s your typical Minnesota farming community with a farmers co-op, hardware store, a bank, automotive body and repair shop, and such. And, if it’s lucky, as Rothsay is, a still surviving public school.

From what I observed, this is an historic blacksmith shop, not a working one. Note the bikes in the background parked outside the public school.

When I visited Rothsay three years ago, the school sat behind this historic blacksmith shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2013.

In the three years since I visited this Wilkin County community, a new school has been built. But there’s a problem, specifically in the Media Center. A shortage of books exists for high school students.

This graphic comes from the gofundme page.

This graphic of book covers comes from the gofundme page.

Now Kristie Sullivan, an English Language Arts teacher who returned to her hometown to teach, has established a gofundme page to fund the purchase of books for high schoolers. She’s seeking $5,000 for titles ranging from classics like The Catcher in the Rye to the current-day popular The Hunger Games.

I can’t think of anything in education more important than books. They are the foundation tool of learning. If you can read, you can learn.

I understand the situation Ms. Sullivan faces. Years ago, when my children were attending a Christian day school in Faribault, I volunteered in the library. There was no funding for library books. So I had to get creative. New books came through cash gifts, a birthday book program, rewards from an annual book sale and from a used book drive. I also purchased many books at garage sales. I’d like to think I made a difference in getting books to students.

Kudos to this young teacher for caring so much about her students that she set up this gofundme page. Such action shows me she is passionate about teaching. And when a teacher is passionate, kids learn. Really learn.

FYI: If you are interested in supporting this gofundme project to buy books for Rothsay High School students, click here.

(h/t Fargo Forum)

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I hate traveling around the Twin Cities on a summer weekend August 12, 2013

“OH, THE PLACES you’ll go…you can steer yourself any direction you choose…”

Apparently Dr. Seuss has never driven through the Twin Cities metro on a weekend, especially this last one.

You could not go any direction you chose due to road construction. Everywhere.

On Saturday morning, heading north from Faribault on Interstate 35 and then eventually northwest on Interstates 494 and 94, my husband, son and I encountered gridlock, as in stopped traffic or traffic moving at a 20 mph maximum for mile beyond endless mile. I have never seen the traffic situation this bad in 30 years of occasionally traveling these three interstates.

It all started near Lakeville, where we crept along to the I-35 Burnsville split.

But pity the poor motorists backed up even further as the sound bound lanes of 35 were shut down completely for the entire weekend. After viewing the miles and miles of stopped traffic there, we opted for an alternative route home on Sunday (more on that in a minute).

Back to Saturday morning. Before the river bridge in Burnsville, north bound traffic finally opened up. Yeah. Little did we know…the worst was yet to come.

Not long after exiting 35 onto 494 west bound, which for once was not a harrowing experience of trying to shoehorn our van into traffic, we encountered more delays. Again, road construction is to blame along with the usual heavy weekend traffic. All told, travel time from Faribault to Monticello totaled nearly two hours. Usual drive time is maybe an hour and 20 minutes.

The only two positives in all of this: At least everyone was creeping along, meaning no crazy motorists driving like maniacs and/or weaving in and out of traffic. And roads are being improved.

Four hours later, following a brief stop at a rest stop, we reached our destination, a family reunion in Morris.

The reunion was great (photos of that forthcoming tomorrow). But the thought of returning home through the metro on Sunday afternoon, not so much. We knew the traffic then would be even worse with motorists heading back into the Cities from a weekend up north.

My husband’s oldest sister, after sharing a story of how she and her husband once sat for 40 minutes on a metro interstate on a Sunday afternoon without moving, proved the deciding factor in taking the long back way home. At least we would be moving.

So near St. Cloud, we exited 94 on Sunday and followed Minnesota Highway 15 all the way to Winthrop. Seems other motorists had the same idea. Yeah. But at least we were moving.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault. Nothing compared to metro road construction and the major traffic snarl-ups there. Sorry, but I failed to photograph the interstate gridlock.

Five hours later, following a lunch break and a stop to purchase fresh veggies at a roadside stand, we drove into Faribault and, ta da, more road construction. In the nearly 30 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen this much road work on major roadways (Minnesota Highways 60 and 21) in my community. Not quite metro area gridlock, but…

DO YOU HAVE ANY stories to share about traffic in the Twin Cities metro this past weekend?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling