Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A threat that strikes incredibly close to home February 26, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

IT’S A BIT LIKE THE ELEPHANT in the room. Do I write about it or not? To avoid the topic seems akin to closing my eyes and pretending I don’t see that which exists.

“It” would be the terrorist threat against the Mall of America.

I live 45 minutes from the mall, which the Somali terror group al-Shabab specifically names as a possible target for attack in a video released this past weekend.

Tucked away in the north land, most Minnesotans likely have felt secure here, far removed from such terrorist threats.

But I’ve always thought this mega shopping center in Bloomington could be a target for attack by terror groups or individual extremists.

Consider the name, Mall of America. “Mall” represents commerce and trade and, probably in the eyes of those who dislike Americans, consumer greed. And the “America” part of the mall’s name, well, that’s a bonus. Precisely the place these terrorists hate.

The Mall of America draws some 40 million visitors annually. With its 520 plus stores, 50 restaurants, LEGO play area, aquarium, theme park, movie theaters and more, the complex is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, according to the MOA website. Perfect target.

I’ve never been to the mall. I simply have no desire to visit. So, for me personally, I don’t need to consider whether I would feel safe going there now.

But for those planning a trip here, this threat certainly must weigh on minds, consciously or subconsciously. Northfield Middle School recently canceled an eighth grade band trip to the mall. The Orono Middle School likewise canceled a physics class visit.

How about you? If you had a daughter or granddaughter who is crazy about the American Girl doll, would you now take her to the MOA American Girl store?

Would you celebrate a child’s birthday at Nickelodeon Universe®?

Would you tour SEA LIFE® Minnesota Aquarium?

Would you see “American Sniper” in a mall theater?

A friend’s daughter works at MOA. You can bet both mom and daughter now carry a level of concern. Who wouldn’t?

The ever-changing/growing diversity of Faribault High School as seen in this post commencement gathering outside the school.

This photo shows the ever-growing diversity in my community as seen in this gathering after Faribault High School’s 2012 commencement. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And I have to wonder about Minnesota’s Somali population. Do they now feel like they are under scrutiny? My own community of Faribault has a significant Somali population. Even before this threat, tension has existed here between some long-time locals and these newest immigrants. I hope this current situation does not heighten tensions.

I have to trust that Minnesota Nice will prevail.

Al-Shabab has also successfully recruited young Somali men in Minnesota to join its cause. That’s already been a major cause for concern among officials and those in the state’s Somali population.

I have to believe that most Minnesotans will stand sensibly strong and watchful in the face of this latest threat.


© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Christmas gift possibilities crafted in southern Minnesota December 10, 2012

THIS TIME OF YEAR the crafters emerge, peddling their wares at malls and craft shows.

I am nearly always impressed and, in all sincerity, envious of their talents. How do they manage to transform a simple piece of wood into a work of art, a skein of yarn into something beautiful and wearable, food ingredients into the most delectable treats…?

Saturday’s craft show at the Faribo West Mall presented an array of crafters showcasing their work for sale.

I couldn’t possibly photograph everyone, so here’s a sampling of the offerings.

Beautifully-packaged Cheryl's Turtles.

Beautifully-packaged Cheryl’s Turtles.

Let’s begin with Cheryl’s Turtles, sinfully delicious candy created by Cheryl Morris in her south Faribault home. Cheryl was parceling out samples of her treat prepared, she emphasized, with her homemade caramel. I was especially impressed with Cheryl’s lovely product packaging; this woman clearly understands the value in presentation. She even told me that her sons, who are sales reps, will gift their customers with these delightful mini packages of sweetness. Cheryl stirs up candy year-round and these same packages will fit her Valentine’s Day marketing plan.

JENean Mortenson's art painted onto a box.

JENean Mortenson’s art painted onto a box.

JENean Mortenson, who shared a table with Cheryl, was selling her hand-painted pieces and stained glass art by her husband. Although she did not specifically tell me this, JENean’s love of gardening clearly influences her art. I’m not sure how we even got on the topic of gardening, but this rural Faribault woman’s gardens have been on the local garden tour many times.

Chuck Henry's cutting boards crafted from reclaimed wood scraps.

Chuck Henry’s cutting boards crafted from reclaimed wood scraps.

Nearby, Faribault resident Chuck Henry takes an approach to crafting that truly fits today’s trendy green living. He uses reclaimed wood from his brother Dave’s custom cabinet shop to saw, glue and press pieces of otherwise cast-off wood scraps into one-of-a-kind cutting boards, trivets and cheese trays. Chuck calls his creations “usable and kind of pretty.” He’s nailed it with that modest description.

Nyla Wille knits while she and her husband tend their table.

Nyla Wille knits while she and her husband tend their table.

Yarn flies across the needles in Nyla's crafty hands.

Yarn flies across the needles in Nyla’s crafty hands.

Next table over, Nyla Wille of Morristown was knitting faster than I could photograph. She asked if I was from the local daily paper and I explained that I’m a blogger simply passionate about writing and photography and sharing my discoveries with readers. Then she tipped me off to a recent visit to the Mall of America by ABC resulting in the Faribault Woolen Mill Co. making “ABC World News with Diane Sawyer” on December 5. The mill’s MOA store was highlighted in a segment called “Made in America, Christmas Edition: The Store America Built.” How cool is that? You can watch that video by clicking here. And you can check out the woolen mill’s on-site store in Faribault by clicking here.

A snippet of the cross Bud Paschke crafted honoring veterans from all branches of the military.

A snippet of the cross Bud Paschke crafted honoring veterans from all branches of the military.

Anyone with a veteran on their Christmas gift list could find the perfect gift among Faribault resident Bud Paschke’s scroll-sawed fretwork designs. It amazes me how anyone can cut such fine details into a piece of wood without sawing off one’s fingertips.

One of Cheryl Anderson's creations from her Nana's Hat Shop.

One of Cheryl Anderson’s creations from her Nana’s Hat Shop.

I absolutely fell for Cheryl Anderson’s array of Nana’s Hat Shop hats, mittens, baby sweaters and other handiwork crocheted in often vibrant hues. This Faribault woman even allowed me to position a Styrofoam head for the best photo op. How “Minnesota Nice” is that?

A sampling of Linda Kooyer's jewelry.

A sampling of Linda Kooyer’s jewelry.

Linda Kooyer’s table was splashed with jewelry, where she sold bracelets for as low as 6 for $5. I snapped up one made of wood.

A holiday doily crocheted years ago by some crafty crafter.

A holiday doily crocheted years ago by some crafty crafter.

Finally, Verna Bahl, a long-time Avon collector, was selling a few of the remaining items in her collection as well as some vintage stuff like this Christmas doily. I contemplated purchasing the crocheted poinsettia piece for the pure kitsch art aspect, but decided, yeah, I really don’t need this. But that did not keep me from snatching up several delicate vintage floral handkerchiefs for a quarter apiece.

TELL ME. Are you a crafter crafting gifts for family and/or selling your creations at holiday craft shows?

IF ANYONE WISHES to connect with any of the crafters featured here, I can connect you. Submit a comment with your contact info (I won’t publish the contact info) and I will pass it along.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project in Minnesota and Wisconsin officially kicks off at MOA August 15, 2012

TEN MONTHS AGO, Todd Bol, co-founder of the Wisconsin-based Little Free Library, and I were discussing an idea to get Little Free Libraries into small towns without libraries. I wanted a library in my hometown of Vesta, a community of around 340 residents which has never had a library.

I had blogged about a LFL in Faribault, where I have lived for 30 years, and challenged the residents of Vesta to start a LFL.

The LFL Todd and Susan Bol installed outside the community-owned Vesta Cafe.

After making that challenge, Bol and I talked and, several months later, he offered to donate, deliver and install a LFL in Vesta, placing the first library in a new initiative, Little Free Libraries for Small Towns. Bol and his wife, Susan, drove from Hudson, Wisconsin, on July 1 and installed a LFL in front of the Vesta Cafe.

This Friday, August 17, that small towns project officially kicks off with a celebration from noon to 3 p.m. in the Mall of America rotunda near the east entrance. A program featuring activities and also appearances by local celebrities sharing their favorite books is slated for 1 – 2 p.m. Businesses and publishers are donating new books and the public is encouraged to bring books for 20 uniquely designed mini libraries to be placed in Twin Cities’ neighborhoods and communities surrounding the mega mall.

MOA is donating those 20 libraries and two special libraries (numbers 2,509 and 2,510) which will tie and break the records of libraries funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

How sweet is that? But even sweeter, in my opinion, is the MOA’s general support of the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project as a way “to promote literacy and community-building by supporting neighborhood book exchanges.”

The beautiful handcrafted LFL donated to my hometown of Vesta.

The LFL works on the premise of take a book/leave a book in a little library, which is typically an over-sized birdhouse size structure attached to a post and installed outdoors, making books accessible to the public 24/7.

In kicking off its Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project, the LFL non-profit aims to focus first on the small towns of Minnesota and Wisconsin without ready access to public libraries, like my hometown of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. The closest libraries to Vesta are about 20 miles away. Earlier this year bookmobile service to my hometown and several other communities was cut by Redwood County commissioners to save money.

I expect that many other small towns in Minnesota and Wisconsin are in similar positions, without library services because a) they’ve never had libraries or b) funding has been cut or trimmed.

Living in or near a town without a library, as I did growing up, is a hardship for someone like me who loves to read. That’s why I was adamant in my discussion last fall with LFL co-founder Bol that he focus on small towns without libraries. He liked the idea—Bol is very much an energetic ideas man—and he eventually shaped our discussion, with the help of his equally enthusiastic staff, into the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project.

Bol thinks big. The LFL group is initially seeking 20 sponsors to each facilitate 20 Little Free Libraries for small towns across Minnesota and Wisconsin, resulting in 400 new free libraries. A $600 contribution supports construction, delivery and installation of one LFL to a small town and a starter collection of books as well as official LFL registration and promotion, and a plaque on the sponsored library.

Beyond all of that, the real satisfaction, I think, comes in the reaction of those communities which benefit from such generosity. My hometown has embraced the LFL with a level of enthusiasm beyond anything I ever expected.

The team that worked to bring a Little Free Library to Vesta includes Dorothy Marquardt, left, and Karen Lemcke, representing the sponsoring Vesta Commercial Club, LFL co-founder Todd Bol and me (holding a copy of a poetry anthology I donated and in which I have two poems, “A school without a library” and “Saturday night baths”).

Karen Lemcke, who early on supported the LFL as a member of the Vesta Commercial Club and is now the Vesta library steward, shared several weeks ago that Vesta’s LFL is a “very successful project.”

She then went on to explain that area residents are taking books from the outdoor LFL and that two bookshelves inside the Vesta Cafe have also been filled with donated books. Says Lemcke:

We have a variety of books from non-fiction, fiction and children’s books. On Sunday, children had taken some of the books and sat on a couch nearby looking through them. I heard today that tractor books were on a shelf and local farmers were borrowing them overnight to look through. The women have been going through the books as well and they will be picking up some to read, too…It’s like it (LFL) brought a “little life” to Vesta.

If you are thinking that Karen’s report brought tears to my eyes, you would be right. To hear that farmers are pulling tractor books from shelves to take home, especially, pleases me. And kids paging through books…

The books Todd Bol and I placed inside Vesta’s LFL on July 1. He brought books donated by several Twin Cities publishers and I brought books from my personal collection. I have since collected and donated an additional 40 books.  A retired librarian from nearby Wabasso donated eight bags of books, primarily mysteries, and the cafe manager’s family also donated books and I expect others have given books, too.

With this new LFL for Small Towns project, just consider for a moment how many more scenarios like this can happen in small towns without libraries. What a gift to bring books to the residents of small towns and enhance or instill a love of reading.

The LFL organization is now accepting applications from communities which would like to be considered for the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project. Applicants from Minnesota and Wisconsin need only complete a short questionnaire requesting information such as the town’s population, whether it has a public library and how a LFL would make a difference in their community.

LFLs will be awarded based on available sponsorships and contributions and the need and interest level of the applicant communities, among other criteria.

So…if your small Minnesota or Wisconsin town needs a library, believe. It can happen. My conversation with the co-founder of the Little Free Library resulted in the donation of a library and a starter collection of books to my hometown…and the launch of the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project.

The Little Free Library at the Vesta Cafe on the one-block Main Street in my hometown is the seed plant of the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns project.

FYI: For more information about the LFL program, click here to reach the website. To learn more about  the Little Free Libraries for Small Towns initiative and to download an application, click here.  Applications will also be available at the MOA-LFL event on Friday, to which I’ve been invited but will be unable to attend.

If you or your business or organization is interested in sponsoring a library or libraries for the small towns initiative in Minnesota or Wisconsin, email Megan Hanson at mphanson@littlefreelibrary.org.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling