Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artistry in a Minnesota sunset April 24, 2017

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The sun begins to set as we head west on Minnesota State Highway 60 toward Kenyon.

 

SUNRISE, SUNSET…so begin lyrics from a song in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I’ve always loved that musical and the song about the seasons of life. How quickly we progress from the sunrise of life to the sunset.

The setting and rising of the sun, while symbolic of life, are of themselves worthy of appreciation. There’s such beauty in the hues that break across the sky, weaving with clouds and sometimes water to produce spectacular visuals. Works of art, really.

 

A line of clouds divided the sky as we continued west.

 

On an early spring Saturday afternoon, returning from a day trip to La Crosse, Wisconsin, my husband and I aimed toward the setting sun, the sky layered in darkness and light.

 

Between Kenyon and Faribault, the sun silhouetted a farm site.

 

As we drove along Minnesota State Highway 60 west to Faribault from Kenyon, the sun slipped closer to the earth, blazing like a brilliant spotlight in our eyes.

 

 

 

 

Then, entering Faribault on the east side, cresting the Highway 60 hill before dipping toward the river valley, I saw before me hues of orange and yellow brushed across the sky like a watercolor painting. It was one of those moments of nearly indescribable, spectacular beauty. A gift at the end of the day.

Welcome home.

FYI: Please check back for photos of the sun setting over the Cannon River by the King Mill Dam. We headed there to watch the final moments of the sunset.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A bedtime story from the Kenyon Police Department January 9, 2017

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I’VE WRITTEN HERE before about the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page. It’s a feel-good innovative use of social media. Truly positive and refreshing.

Now there’s one more reason to love this Facebook page. Officer Goodman (a puppet) has joined the KPD family. He makes his debut this evening by reading a children’s picture book, My Daddy Snores written by Nancy Rothstein and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.

This might just be a new bed-time routine for you and your kids. Or you. There’s something comforting about a police officer puppet reading a story as if he’s a schooled children’s librarian. Or simply a police chief who continues to care deeply for others. That would be Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A prompt to lighten up & have some fun November 2, 2016

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LIKE A SCENE from The Wizard of Oz, the witch riding a bicycle drew me in for a closer look.

And that’s when I focused on the sign:

 

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I don’t condone wicked behavior in the sense of something evil or criminal. But wicked behavior defined as fun and of no harmful consequence to anyone, that I can support.

How about you? What wicked fun behavior have you participated in?

FYI: The witch photographed here is located next to the scarecrow display at the 100 Ladies and Gentlemen Craft Sale in Kenyon. I posted about the scarecrows yesterday. If you haven’t read that piece, click here.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Voting for a scarecrow November 1, 2016

 

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WITCH (sic) ONE SHOULD I choose?

 

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Is this one It? Looks like a shady character hiding behind that signature hair style.

 

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This scarecrow stands out in the field. Just look at that perfect, practiced smile and that perfectly pressed plaid.

 

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The artistry here is certainly something to crow about.

 

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I’m struggling to wrap my head around the choices.

 

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Is this unique scarecrow raking in the votes? If only there were exit polls.

 

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I like this scarecrow entourage. But those signs bother me. BEWARE. Of what? And No crows. What’s wrong with crows? Yeah, I know they’re not robins…

 

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On the surface, I thought, how clever to post a campaign sign. But then I reread the words. Turning Green with Envy Needs Money popped out at me. You can’t sway my vote with sympathy, excess advertising, confusing rhetoric or via deflection.

 

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I hope the candidates will accept the outcome, respecting the democratic process that veils our votes in secrecy. No rigged polls here.

 

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There are so many choices. But really, these are just scarecrows. I shouldn’t take this election so seriously. There’s a more important election on November 8.

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FYI: These scarecrows are part of a Scarecrow Contest at the 100 Ladies and Gentlemen Craft Sale. That sale, located at 45986 Highway 56 just off Minnesota Highway 60 in Kenyon, continues from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. November 3 -6 and November 10 -13. All items are handcrafted.

Disclaimer: There’s nothing political about the craft sale. It’s just that–a craft sale.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

In small town Minnesota: A public show of support for police officers July 30, 2016

Stopped at an intersection in Kenyon, I snapped this quick photo of the Kenyon Police Department office. The yellow sign in the KPD window reads "Every Life Matters."

Stopped at an intersection in Kenyon, I snapped this quick photo of the Kenyon Police Department office, right. The yellow sign in the KPD window reads “Every Life Matters.”

I’VE RAVED HERE SEVERAL TIMES about the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page. Police Chief Lee Sjolander’s become a bit of a celebrity for his honest, humorous and thoughtful writing. He cares. And people like him. Really like him.

A week ago Friday, the good folks of Kenyon, population around 1,800, honored Lee and his officers during an open house at the VFW in this small southeastern Minnesota community. Lines formed. Kind words were spoken and written. And the humble chief thanked his staff.

I love feel-good stories like this. With all the violence, chaos and unrest in today’s world, we need to be reminded of the positive. We need to thank those who care for us, whether personally or on a professional level. Life can be hard sometimes, really hard. But it’s easier when we are kind to one another, when we support and encourage. And express our gratitude.

This Sunday, July 31, my community of Faribault will thank local law enforcement and first responders during a candlelight vigil ceremony at 9:15 p.m. at the Rice County Courthouse.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Every life matters to a social media savvy small town Minnesota police chief July 13, 2016

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

HOOLIGAN BY DEFINITION means violent young troublemaker.

And although Lee Sjolander is officially a hooligan, as in the percussionist for the Goodhue County rock and country variety band The Local Hooligans, he’s not by any standards a troublemaker. That’s his part-time after hours band gig title.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

Downtown Kenyon, Minnesota, during the 2014 Rose Fest, always held on the third weekend in August. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Full-time, Sjolander serves as the police chief of Kenyon, a small southeastern Minnesota community of about 1,800.

But he’s more than your average small town police officer. He’s also a social media celebrity with a world-wide Facebook following that numbers in the thousands. He recently returned from an invitation only 21st Century Policing conference at the White House. And he’s appeared on a Twin Cities television station and has been referenced by Minnesota Public Radio.

Yet, despite all of the notoriety, Sjolander keeps doing what he does best—caring about the good folks and animals (yes, he picks up strays) of Kenyon and writing about his work, his community, social issues and even the personal struggles he faces.

Sjolander is refreshingly positive. If there’s a problem or need in his community, he seeks out solutions. He helps families find housing, pays for groceries, distributes donated monies to locals who are going through tough times and more. In summary, he cares.

He sports a sprawling tattoo on his upper right arm inked with the words: Every Life Matters. Those same three words are stitched onto his bullet proof vest.

Sjolander has an open book, down-home personal writing style infused with compassion and humor that resonates with the masses. If you aren’t following the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page, I’d encourage you to do so. You will be a better person for having read the chief’s words.

And if you’re interested in meeting the chief and his officers, attend a Friday, July 22, open house starting at 4 p.m. at the Kenyon VFW. It is an opportunity, say organizers, to thank and recognize the police department for its work.

That’s how things roll in small town Kenyon under the policing of Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In rural Aspelund: Passionate about peonies & wine June 14, 2016

These peonies have been growing for seven years now on the Rohl property.

These peonies have been growing for seven years on the Rohl property.

WIND WHIPPED THOUSANDS of past their prime peonies, their crimson, pink and white blossoms dipping, dancing to the rhythm of summer.

Peony fields line both sides of the gravel driveway and spill into the yard near the tasting room.

Peony fields line both sides of the gravel driveway and spill into the yard near the Rohl’s home and wine tasting room.

With temps in the seventies under clear skies, it was a perfect mid-June Sunday afternoon to tour the Aspelund Peony Gardens in west central Goodhue County, just east of Aspelund/northwest of Wanamingo/northeast of Kenyon.

The entry to the small tasting room.

The entry to the small tasting room.

Paired with Aspelund Winery, also owned by Bruce and Dawn Rohl and on the same rural acreage, this makes a great southern Minnesota day trip destination. It’s peaceful and lovely, educational and relaxing. You can learn about peonies and wine while enjoying both with a couple passionate about both.

While strawberry wine is the best-selling wine, my favorite is Neighborhood Apple, the top-selling of the three apple wines.

Strawberry wine is the best-selling wine. But my favorite is Neighborhood Apple, the top-selling of the three apple wines.

While the Rohls have been in the business of growing, hybridizing and selling peonies for awhile, they opened their winery just a year ago—on June 13. A taste-testing of their six wines—three apple, one grape, another elderberry and the sixth, strawberry—made it difficult to choose a favorite. They’re that good. But, after some thought, I’d select Neighborhood Apple as my favorite. It’s their best-selling apple wine, a blend of their apples and apples gathered from neighbors. I like the neighborhood name and concept as much as the wine. The outgoing and welcoming Rohls are the type you’d want as next-door neighbors.

Inside the tasting room, peacock decor prevails, here next to the wine rack.

Inside the tasting room, peacock decor prevails, here next to the wine rack.

Their employee, Anders Lars, is a neighbor, whom I mistook as their son. And, yes, he goes by the Swedish Anders, not Andy. I asked. This is an area proud of its Scandinavian heritage. Bruce’s ancestors, however, trace to France where they were vintners.

So many lovely peonies in multitudes of colors, shapes and scents.

So many lovely peonies in multitudes of colors, shapes and scents.

Interestingly enough, it is memories of Bruce’s grandma’s peonies that led him into the peony business. But not how you would expect. He didn’t like her flopping-over peonies and vowed never to plant peonies. That changed on the day he and Dawn visited Bob Tischler, a now-deceased Faribault peony grower. Bob introduced them to other varieties and the couple left Tischler Peony Garden with 13 plants. And, yes, despite his initial dislike of the flopping-over peony, Bruce now has his grandma’s peony from her Hudson, Wisconsin, garden.

Peony lovers shop and admire the gardens.

Peony lovers shop and admire the gardens.

Today the Rohls grow 150 types of peonies. Visitors peruse the offerings online or visit the farm during bloom season to select specific bushes. Then, in the fall, the plants are divided and customers get their plants. Average cost is $20, with some going as high as $70.

There are rows and rows and rows of peonies.

There are rows and rows and rows of peonies.

Buyers range from grandmothers purchasing plants for family to people beautifying landscapes as they focus on staycations rather than vacations to serious peony lovers, Bruce says.

Bruce's hybridized peonies are growing by the tasting room.

Bruce’s hybridized peonies are growing by the tasting room.

He has hybridized seven peonies, giving them identifying local town names like Aspelund, Wanamingo and Zumbrota. It will be awhile before those are ready to sell, Bruce said, noting the entire process from hybridizing to sale-ready takes about 20 years.

The grapevines grow atop a hill overlooking the countryside.

The grapevines grow next to an aged outbuilding atop a hill overlooking the countryside.

A design engineer by full-time profession, Bruce hopes to some day make the flower and wine business his sole focus. The couple also makes maple syrup and tends their small vineyard of 80 vines in seven varieties of grapes, their 450 elderberry bushes and 150 apple trees.

There are two red wines--Elder-bry (elderberry) and Stra-bry (strawberry).

There are two red wines–Elder-bry (elderberry) and Stra-bry (strawberry).

They are clearly passionate about their peonies and wine. Like the hybridizing of peonies, the couple is also always working on new wines. They hope soon to release a tomato wine that tastes like a Bloody Mary (200 tomato plants are growing on their farm); a cucumber wine flavored with lemons and oranges and with ginger roots; and a fennel wine tasting of black licorice.

Dawn meets with customers who are perusing a peony catalog in the wine tasting room.

Dawn meets with customers who are perusing peony choices in the wine tasting room.

It will be interesting to see what they name these new wines. Dawn explains that Mingo Red, for example, is like a Minnesota hotdish, a mingling of their seven Minnesota cold climate grape varieties.

The memorable symbol of Aspelund Winery.

The memorable symbol of Aspelund Winery.

There’s also a story behind the peacocks featured on the wine labels, in the landscaping and in the cozy tasting room. The Rohls attempted to relocate peacocks from Bruce’s father’s farm two miles away. But the birds didn’t stay at the winery/peony garden, returning on their own to their original home. It’s just as well, Bruce says, noting that he learned after the fact they’ll eat flower blossoms. But it makes for a good story and a memorable winery business graphic.

I couldn't get enough of the peonies, even if most were past peak bloom.

I found some peonies not past peak bloom. Lovely.

And about the proper pronunciation of peonies, I asked the peony experts. The correct pronunciation is pee-a-knees, Dawn said. However, because Minnesotans like their “o’s,” they mostly say pee-oh-knees. And the Rohls are just fine with that.

Even though peony blooming season is wrapping up, you can still order peonies by shopping online or viewing the selections in this three-ring binder in the wine tasting room.

Even though peony blooming season is wrapping up, you can still order peonies by shopping online or viewing the selections in this three-ring binder in the wine tasting room.

FYI: The winery, located at 9204 425th Street, rural Kenyon, is open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from April through December 24 (the neighbors have a Christmas tree farm). If you’re traveling Minnesota State Highway 60, watch for the Aspelund road sign onto Goodhue County Road 1 near Bombay. Go a few miles to Aspelund, turn onto County Road 8 and then shortly thereafter onto 425th Street.

There's plenty of deck and patio space for gatherings to sip wine.

You can sip wine outdoors on the patio or deck, in a beautiful park-like setting.

Note that the tasting room is small. But there is plenty of outdoor seating on a patio and deck. The Rohls also welcome guests to explore their beautiful, well-groomed property.

I still found blooms worthy of photographing.

I still found blooms worthy of photographing.

Prime peony blooming season has ended. It’s best to call ahead in the spring/early summer if you want to see these flowers in peak bloom.

The Rohls use their own apples and those of neighbors to make their three wines: Cobblers Knob Medley (Honey Gold, Ida Red and O'Connel Red), Cobblers Knob Gold (Honey Gold apples) and Neighborhood Apple.

The Rohls use their own apples and those of neighbors to make their three wines: Cobblers Knob Medley (Honey Gold, Ida Red and O’Connell Red apples), Cobblers Knob Gold (Honey Gold apples) and Neighborhood Apple.

For more information about the winery, click here.

Peony beds mingle between farm buildings on this lovely rural Goodhue County site.

Peony beds mingle between farm buildings on this lovely rural Goodhue County site.

And click here for info about the peony garden.

BONUS PHOTOS:

My favorite old building on the farm site.

Love this old building on the farm site.

Choosing a favorite peony would be difficult among the 150 varieties.

Choosing a favorite peony among the 150 varieties would be difficult.

This tire swing, with its chain grown into a tree branch, adds simple country charm to the yard.

This tire swing, with its chain grown into a tree branch, adds simple country charm to the yard and peony gardens.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling