Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Tips to successful blogging from Minnesota Prairie Roots December 3, 2010

I AM NOT NECESSARILY the self-promoting type, which, for a writer, likely spells missed opportunities.

While I appreciate positive comments, even glowing praise and public recognition, I struggle with marketing myself. I’ve turned down invitations to speak to groups because I dislike giving public presentations. Not that I can’t, and won’t, but, given the choice, I’d rather not. I’m at that place in my life where I don’t feel pressured to do what others expect.

I’m not on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any social networking site that would likely benefit my career.

Rather, I have focused my energy on writing, simply writing, and not shouting to the world, “Hey, look at me, I’m great!”

But today I’m going to shed my conservative Minnesota Lutheran, avoid-the-spotlight persona and share my thoughts on blogging, which in my humble opinion, I’ve become quite good at during the past year. Even writing those words, though, makes me feel uncomfortable and boastful.

Yet, numbers don’t lie. Since launching my Minnesota Prairie Roots blog on July 15, 2009, my readership has soared. A year ago my views totaled an unimpressive 896 for the month of August, my first full month of blogging. This August, I had 6,132 views.

But the numbers get even better. The past three months, my views have scooted close to 10,000 per month with 9,623 views in September, 9,573 in October and a record 9,976 in November. That’s a current average of 332 daily views.

Maybe those numbers are small potatoes in the blogging world. I don’t know and I really don’t care, all that much. I’m happy with where I’m at, although getting paid for blogging would increase my happiness quotient substantially.

 

The homepage of WordPress.com, chose my "In Praise of Preserving Country Churches" as one of 11 featured posts from among 300,000-plus world-wide on July 10. There's my post in the lower right.

I’ve been featured on the home page of WordPress.com on “Freshly Pressed,” chosen from among hundreds of thousands of bloggers world-wide for that honor. That July 10 selection pushed my views to an all-time high of 1,052 on a single day.

I’ve been categorized among Minnesota’s best bloggers on at least two online publications.

At MinnPost, my posts have been featured numerous times on “Minnesota Blog Cabin” by Justin Piehowski who, weekdays, “surveys hundreds of Minnesota’s best blogs looking for the best of the best.”

Bob Collins, who writes the online “News Cut” for Minnesota Public Radio calls Minnesota Prairie Roots an excellent blog and one of his favorites. “This woman can write,” he wrote in a recent tweet. To get that kind of praise from a respectable media outlet like MPR confirms that I really can blog, and well.

And get this, Minnesota Twins fans, I even made Joe Mauer’s official Web site on June 11 under the section “Joe’s Kemp’s Dairy TV spots,” posted by his mom, Theresa Mauer. She links to my June 17 Minnesota Prairie Roots post, “I may not be Joe Mauer’s mom, but I’ve got it.” Let me tell you, getting onto Mauer’s Web site certainly drove traffic to my blog.

I’m not sure how I’ve managed to achieve all of these honors or grow my readership beyond family and friends. Mostly, I’ve stayed true to my down-to-earth self, writing about my everyday life, the places I visit, the things I do and observations I make about the world around me. In other words, I really haven’t changed how I write because my writing has been noticed.

My writing isn’t particularly opinionated. In fact, the topics of my blog posts seem rather ordinary to me. Perhaps therein lies their appeal. One reader (I must divulge that she is my cousin) says my writing makes her feel good. She likes that I don’t gripe and complain or have an agenda (usually). Another reader, who is a native Minnesotan and New York Times bestselling author living in California, says “Reading your e-magazine is almost like visiting Minnesota again.”

Whatever the reasons for my success, I’m pleased that folks continue clicking on Minnesota Prairie Roots. This validates me as a writer.

Recently a writer-friend asked for blogging tips. After some thought, which really made me examine this blogging passion of mine, I created a list that has proven successful for me.

Even though directed at blogging, these suggestions can apply to writing in general:

  • Keep paragraphs short. Big blocks of copy can be daunting to readers.
  • Use catchy, creative titles.
  • Categorize and/or tag your blogs. I did not tag initially. Big mistake.
  • Use photos. Readers find blogs paired with artwork to be more visually-appealing and interesting.
  • Keep a constant list of blog topics in your head or on paper. This means remaining attentive to everything around you. Almost anything can become a blog post. I never run out of ideas.
  • Engage all of your senses when you write. Paint a picture with words.
  • Use strong verbs. I avoid forms to “to be” whenever possible.
  • Sometimes what you think are the most mundane topics turn out to be the most interesting to readers. Do not underestimate a topic.
  • Story-tell with quotes in a style of creative nonfiction. I always, or almost always, use present tense when I write in this style.
  • Proof your writing to assure that you publish an error-free piece.

Now, with this post I’ve likely broken many of the above guidelines—too few images, too many weak verbs, too many long paragraphs. But this is not my typical writing style or topic. I’ve dared, for one day, to step outside of my comfort zone and promote myself. Thank you for indulging me.

IF YOU ENJOY READING Minnesota Prairie Roots, tell me why. You, after all, dear reader, have encouraged me through your views and your comments. I am grateful for the 72,986 (as of 2:15 p.m. December 2) views I’ve gotten during the past 17 months of writing for Minnesota Prairie Roots. Very grateful.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hit one out of the cornfield for the Minnesota Twins October 8, 2010

 

Montgomery Orchard celebrates the Minnesota Twins' 50th anniversary with a Twins logo corn maze.

 

HEY, ALL YOU APPLE-LOVING Minnesota Twins fans, if you want to test your Twins knowledge and your navigation skills, head to Minnesota’s version of The Field of Dreams at Montgomery Orchard, like I did last weekend.

Just a note here, before I tell you more about this opportunity. Please do not mistake the previous apple reference for any endorsement of The Big Apple-based New York Yankees.

Montgomery, Minnesota, orchard owners Scott and Barb Wardell clearly love the home team as they’ve created a six-acre corn maze in the shape of the Twins emblem. But that’s not all. They’ve developed a trivia game that challenges maze visitors to answer questions about the Twins at home plate; first, second and third bases; the pitcher’s mound; short stop; and right, center and left fields, depending on the selected maze route.

Since I don’t exactly like mazes, having once survived a terrifying mirror maze at Arnolds Park in Lake Okoboji, Iowa, during my teen years, I opted for the short Be-A-Mazed half-hour route. Fortunately, my husband agreed to lead me through the cornfield because I possess minimal map reading skills or sense of direction or knowledge of The Twins.

 

My husband leads the way through the short corn maze route. If you get lost and think you can just follow the corn rows to get out, forget it. The corn is not planted in straight-shot rows.

 

But my 24-year-old daughter and three of her friends, who had driven down from Minneapolis for the afternoon and who are the ultimate Twins fans, along with my teenaged son, opted for the longer maze with far more winding trails and far more trivia questions. At least one of the four women had brushed up on Twins trivia. I wondered, though, why none of these Twins fanatics were wearing Twins attire.

 

My oldest daughter, left, and three of her friends drove down from Minneapolis to navigate the maze, pick apples and rave about the homemade hot dogs from Edel's Meat Market, an on-site vendor.

 

Who am I to talk, though? I probably should not admit this. But since I am an honest person, I will reveal that, except for the World Series games in 1987, I have never watched an entire professional baseball game on television or ever attended one. I am the rare individual who really does not care about sports. I had come to the orchard corn maze simply because I wanted to see my daughter.

While I was there, I decided to exert some effort toward answering the Twins trivia questions. The problem, however, is that nearly everything I know about baseball history is limited to names—Harmon Killebrew, Tony Olivia and Rod Carew. I learned about those players decades ago from my eldest brother who listened to the Twins games on his transistor radio and who insisted on being Harmon Killebrew whenever we played farmyard softball.

I figured that long-ago role-playing and sportscasting would be helpful in the maze trivia contest. Plus I do know a bit of current trivia: Joe Mauer plays for the Twins. Yup, I figured “Mauer” might be the answer to at least one question.

But, after reading the first set of questions at home plate, I realized I’d never win this game.

Here’s the first rookie question I faced at home plate: Which of the following Twins legends are not in the Baseball Hall of Fame?  a. Harmon Killebrew  b. Tony Olivia  c. Rod Carew  d. Kirby Puckett

I had no clue. None. Nada. Strike one.

So, I moved on to the All-Star question: What American League catcher holds the record for the most All-Star selections?

I suspect if I knew the definition of “All-Star” that would help considerably. Strike two.

Heck, I may as well go for the Hall of Fame question: Name three Minnesotans that grew up to catch for the Twins.

Uh, yeah, so like I have no idea what positions Harmon or Tony or Rod played. Not even Joe, although I think he’s a catcher but I would need to verify that.  Sorry, Joe. Strike three. I’m out!

After that I decided to forgo the trivia and concentrate on getting through, and more importantly out of, the corn maze. As my husband and I wound our way along the rock-hard dirt path that twisted through the towering dried corn, I repeatedly asked if he knew where we were going. He said he did and I trusted that he did, although a few times I wished aloud for bread crumbs to drop along the path.

Or perhaps leaving a trail of peanuts and Cracker Jacks would have been more appropriate.

 

The Twins trivia questions are posted at baseball positions in the corn maze.

 

 

My husband climbs to a platform in the midst of the cornfield.

 

 

From the elevated platform, you get a bird's eye view of the corn maze and the countryside. Montgomery Orchard is donating $1 of each maze admission to the Twins Community Fund.

 

 

After completing the maze, head to the orchard to pick apples.

 

 

Or you can head to the store for pre-picked apples, local honey, jams, jellies, Cortland caramel apples and more. Peruse the wagon full of pumpkins from a neighboring farm on your way there.

 

 

You can choose from bags of apples lined up on the store porch. The orchard grows 13 apple varieties.

 

 

Musicians entertain inside and outside the store, depending on the weather.

 

 

Down in the pole shed, visitors can help make apple cider during a 2:30 p.m. daily demonstration.

 

FYI: Be-A-Amazed corn maze is located at Montgomery Orchard about an hour south of the Twin Cities and just south of Montgomery one mile east of the intersection of state highways 99 and 13 along highway 99. Regular orchard hours are from 1 – 6 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and Sundays. (Check the Web site for Be-A-Mazed-At-Night dates.)  Last corn maze admission is taken at 4:30 p.m. and reservations are recommended for large groups. Cost is $6.75 for ages 11 through adult; $5.50 for ages 4 – 10; and free for those under four.

In addition to the maze, apple picking, cider making and entertainment, Montgomery Orchard offers a 1 1/4-mile nature hike through the prairie. A free adopt-a-tree program is also available for youth.

Click here for info about Edel’s Meat Market, which serves those delicious (according to the Minneapolis residents) hot dogs and homemade brats.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I may not be Joe Mauer’s mom, but I’ve “got it” June 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:45 AM
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Cookies 'N Cream (not Kemps) store brand ice cream

TERESA MAUER, move over. You’ve got competition on the playing field.

I, too, can hit a fly ball—uh, scoop of ice cream—across the ballpark—um, kitchen.

Here’s a replay of my shining moment:

“Do you want some ice cream?” I ask my guys. Silly question since I already know they’ll say “yes.” But I hope that, by inquiring, one of them will dish up the treat. Arm wrestling rock-hard ice cream really isn’t my favorite sport.

Clearly, the guys are not going to pinch hit for me. My teen is snuggled into a corner of the couch with his laptop. My husband has his feet up in the recliner watching America’s Got Talent.

So I head toward the kitchen, pull open the freezer door and consider the options. “Peanut Butter Brownie Sensation or Cookies ‘N Cream?” I shout.

Of course, they both want the Blue Bunny “peanut butter ice cream loaded with brownie chunks and a chocolate peanut butter swirl.”

“There’s not much left,” I share, thinking maybe they’ll settle for the store brand of Oreo-laced vanilla ice cream and I can have the remaining Brownie Sensation.

Nope, that game plan isn’t working, so I scrape the bottom and sides of the carton, evenly distributing the ice cream into three bowls. (Well, I do cheat some and give myself a little bit more. But who’s watching?)

Next, I lift the flaps on the Cookies ‘N Cream box, edging the tip of the ice cream scoop into the hard, hard ice cream.

Then, just as the ice cream molds into a ball, it releases. It’s a hit. The ice cream ball flies up, grazes the watch on my left wrist and lands at the edge of the kitchen sink, nearly rolling into clean silverware stashed in the dish drainer.

I’m stunned. But I react swiftly, grabbing and tossing the ball into a bowl.

I share none of this with the team…until later, when my husband and I are watching the 10 p.m. news. Our son is gone by then, star-gazing at his astronomy class.

During a commercial break, I watch as Teresa Mauer, mother of Minnesota Twins player Joe Mauer, scoops ice cream. Then, just like that, the ice cream releases from the scoop and flies across the room. Joe lunges and catches the ice cream ball in his bowl.

My jaw drops. I have never seen this Kemps’ “Got It” television spot. Yet…

“That just happened to me,” I say, detailing to my husband exactly what occurred in our kitchen 1 ½ hours earlier.

“Yeah, except you didn’t have Joe Mauer there to catch it,” he replies. “You just picked the dirty ice cream off the floor and put it in my bowl and figured I wouldn’t notice since it’s Cookies ‘N Cream.”

Uh, not quite.

Bottom line, I love this “Got It” ad. It’s short, sweet (catch that?), and absolutely believable.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling