Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Walking around the Tufts’ neighborhood the day after graduation June 7, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
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Art on a utility box by campus.

Art on a utility box by campus.

THE MORNING AFTER MY SON’S recent graduation from Tufts University in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts, life was back to normal.

 

Snapshots, 331 construction workers in Medford, MA.

 

Construction workers labored on a campus building project while a police officer stood nearby to stop traffic if needed. His Boston accent matched every preconceived notion I held of a Boston accent. Thick. Unpronounced “r’s.” Perfect Boston diction to my Minnesota ears.

 

Snapshots, 334 watering dog in Meford, MA.

 

On this Monday morning while my son attended appointments, my husband and I walked around his neighborhood and lunched at a campus coffee shop on a busy street corner. I people-watched. The construction workers. The cop. A young woman who pulled a water bowl and water bottle from her backpack to hydrate her dog on a street corner.

 

Snapshots, 338 congrats on house in Somerville, MA.

 

After lunch we walked around the neighborhood, skirting smelly garbage cans on the narrow sidewalk while also surveying the broken furniture, rolled rugs and assorted goods emptied from college students’ apartments. Parents filled car trunks and U-Hauls. A college co-ed carried boxes from campus to a new off-campus apartment.

 

Snapshots, 343 scavenging Somerville, MA.

 

And, in the street, a woman rolled a cart bulging with can-filled garbage bags and assorted loot from all the graduation parties the day prior.

 

Snapshots, 337 grad napkin on ground Somerville, MA.

 

I noted the residue of those celebrations—a stray napkin, a congrats banner stretching across a porch, a commencement banner still hanging from a post.

 

Snapshots, 349 carvimg on tree

 

And, etched into the bark of a hillside tree, I noticed names. Knifed there by college students, I suppose. Not just this year. But through the years.

 

Snapshots, 346 house on hill Medford, Ma.

 

The day sparkled with the kind of light that is bright and sharp and new, as in this is spring, your kid has finished college, new.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Touring Tufts University in greater Boston June 6, 2016

Tufts melds almost seamlessly into the residential neighborhoods of Medford and Somerville.

Tufts melds almost seamlessly into the residential neighborhoods of Medford and Somerville.

PRIOR TO MY SON considering Tufts University as a potential transfer college three years ago, I’d never heard of this Massachusetts university. But Caleb had done his research, followed by a flight to Boston to explore three colleges there. All three eventually accepted him, with Tufts offering a financial aid package that would allow him to afford an education at the Medford/Somerville campus.

Caleb and Randy climb Memorial Steps, in honor of Tufts' war dead, to the campus. There are a lot of steps.

Caleb and Randy climb Memorial Steps, in honor of Tufts’ war dead, to the main campus.

I shall always be grateful to the benefactor who gave my son this opportunity to learn at a highly-ranked student-centered research university. Caleb needed the challenges Tufts offered. He needed to leave the Midwest. He needed a place like Tufts.

I zoomed in on the Boston skyline from the patio roof of Tisch Library.

I zoomed in on the Boston skyline from the patio roof of Tisch Library.

After visiting Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus for the first time the day before commencement, I understood why Caleb loves this university. The college, set atop a hill and with a spectacular view of the distant Boston skyline from the roof of Tisch Library, is stunningly impressive.

Eaton Hall

The political science, sociology and classics departments, among other offices, are located in Eaton Hall.

A newer building on campus.

A newer building on campus.

New construction is underway on campus, as seen to the right in this photo. That's the John Hancock building in the distant Boston skyline.

New construction is underway on campus, as seen to the right in this photo. That’s the John Hancock building in the distant Boston skyline.

Aged buildings define the campus, although newer ones also stand and are under construction.

This new Jumbo sculpture was recently installed on campus.

This new Jumbo sculpture was recently installed at Tufts. It’s a popular spot for photo ops.

Tufts (with four campuses) was established in 1852 and has an enrollment of nearly 12,000 students. It’s mascot is Jumbo the elephant of circus fame. President Barack and Michelle Obama’s daughter Malia toured Tufts in March 2015, settling later on Harvard University in next-door Cambridge as her college choice. Noted individuals like Meredith Vieira, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Michlle Kwan are Tufts alum.

Ballou Hall, built 1852-54.

Ballou Hall, built 1852-54. Graduation ceremonies were held on the adjacent green.

Goddard Chapel, built in 1883.

Goddard Chapel, built in 1883.

Beautiful stained glass windows and dark wood dominate Goddard Chapel.

Beautiful stained glass windows and dark wood define Goddard Chapel.

The Gifford House, home to the college president.

The Gifford House, home to the college president.

Given my appreciation for old buildings and lovely architecture, I loved the historic feel of Tufts. There’s something comforting and storied about structures that have existed for a long time. There’s an ongoing connection to generations of students who’ve walked these halls and this campus under a canopy of trees with spacious green space, seemingly a premium in the greater Boston neighborhoods I saw during my late May visit.

I adore the reading room in the Edwin Ginn Library at The Fletcher School.

The Edwin Ginn Library at The Fletcher School looks like something out of a movie set. Oh, to study here. And my son did.

A sculpture on campus.

A sculpture on campus.

Posted on an athletic field fence.

Posted on an athletic field fence.

It is easy to love Tufts.

Caleb spent a lot of time here, in the computer lab.

Caleb spent a lot of time here, in the computer lab.

I understand why, at age 22, my son likes living in greater Boston. This metro area teems with young people. There’s a certain vibe, a constant hum, a busyness that prevails. People are walking/hurrying everywhere. The mass transit system makes getting around easy.

My son and I pose atop the Tisch Library with the Boston skyline as a backdrop.

My son and I pose atop the Tisch Library with the Boston skyline as a backdrop.

It’s not a place I would choose to live. But it is, for now, my son’s home. And although I don’t like having him 1,400 miles away, I have accepted that he lives here, too far from Minnesota, in a city he loves.

FYI: Check back for a tour of a neighborhood surrounding Tufts.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When a Minnesota mom attends her son’s East Coast college graduation June 3, 2016

A Tufts University graduate decorated her graduation hat.

A uniquely decorated graduation hat at Tufts University 2016 commencement.

I’VE ATTENDED THREE COLLEGE graduations now, for each of my three children, with eight years separating the first and final commencements.

The tented area in the background served as the stage during the all-school commencement ceremony.

The tented area in the background served as the stage during the all-school commencement ceremony at Tufts.

The daughters’ ceremonies were held in gyms at public universities in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I don’t recall much about either other than the Wisconsin politician who used his commencement speech as a campaign platform. I was deeply disappointed, even angry. This wasn’t supposed to be about him, but rather about the graduates.

Congratulatory balloons floated among spectators.

Congratulatory balloons float among spectators.

So when alum and Emmy-award winning actor Hank Azaria was slated to deliver the all-school commencement speech at my son’s May 22 graduation from Tufts University in greater Boston, I was wary. I had no idea who he was, which is no surprise given I am unaware of most Hollywood celebrities. When I learned that Azaria voiced many of The Simpsons characters, I was delighted. My son is a big fan of The Simpsons.

A snapshot of the crowd before the all-school commencement began.

A snapshot of the crowd before the all-school commencement begins.

To my relief, Azaria gave a humorous speech with the simple message that graduates should be honest with themselves and trust their instincts.

The second phase of graduation moved us nearer the stage and to the ceremony for The School of Engineering.

The second phase of graduation moved us nearer the stage and to the ceremony for The School of Engineering.

He voiced several characters from The Simpsons, providing much needed laughter in a morning with an abundance of drawn-out pomp and circumstance.

I caught this dad napping at The School of Engineering commencement ceremony.

I caught this dad napping at The School of Engineering commencement ceremony.

Role-playing Moe the bartender, Azaria said, “I didn’t have a high-falutin’ education. I went to BU.” The audience roared at the comparison between Tufts and Boston University. I understood, feeling a bit like a country hick myself amidst the obvious wealth of many Tufts families.  I am keenly aware that my son, too, felt at times out-of-place on this East Coast campus as a Minnesota boy from a lower middle class family.

Lots of photos were taken at the ceremony and of Tufts' mascot Jumbo, in the background here.

Lots of photos were taken at the ceremony and of Tufts’ mascot, Jumbo, in the background here.

Laughter also erupted when Azaria mimicked the Indian-American owner of the Kwik-E-Mart (from The Simpsons): “We both worship an elephant.” Tufts’ mascot is Jumbo the elephant. P.T. Barnum was an early benefactor of the university.

Tufts police and EMS stood ready near the main commencement stage. Just weeks prior to commencement, a car was torched on campus and a bomb threat discovered.

Tufts police and EMS stand ready near the main commencement stage. Just weeks prior to graduation day, a car was torched on campus and a bomb threat discovered.

Light-hearted moments were welcome among the formal protocol, which began at 9 a.m. and extended well into the afternoon. Thousands gathered on the campus green for, first, the all-school commencement ceremony, and afterward for individual school commencements.

A father photographs the

A father photographs The School of Engineering commencement ceremony. That’s a side profile of Jumbo the elephant in the background.

My husband and I were sitting so far back from the stage that we could see little. I used my camera’s telephoto lens as binoculars several times.

Thousands of chairs covered the campus green for commencement. The event went on, rain or shine. Rain drizzled briefly.

Thousands of chairs cover the campus green for commencement. We sat in this side wing area near the back. Apparently you need to arrive really early to get a good seat.  The event went on, rain or shine. Rain drizzled briefly.

I was thankful events were held outdoors on the beautiful university green rather than inside some stuffy auditorium. Tufts’ Medford/Somerville campus sits atop a hill with a picturesque view of the Boston skyline. Campus buildings are aged and solid, trademark visuals of a long-established and respected educational institution.

Flowers and balloons await graduates.

Flowers and balloons await graduates.

Visiting Tufts for the first time on graduation weekend was an experience, an opportunity to see this place our son has called home for three years. Many other families traveled, too, from across the country and across the world to watch their sons and daughters graduate. We shared that commonality. Maybe not of financial wealth, or lack thereof. But of parents celebrating.

BONUS PHOTOS:

After the two commencement ceremonies, we were finally able to eat a picnic lunch--salad, strawberries and a bar--on a grassy hillside.

After the two commencement ceremonies, we were finally able to eat a complimentary picnic lunch–salad, strawberries and a bar–on a grassy hillside. Everything was recycled.

Vendors hawked flowers before and after commencement ceremonies.

Vendors hawked flowers before and after commencement ceremonies.

Beautiful flowers for a graduate.

Beautiful flowers for a graduate.

FYI: Check back next week for a tour of the Tufts campus.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts upon my son’s graduation from Tufts University June 2, 2016

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Caleb returns to his seat after graduating from Tufts University School of Engineering with a bachelor of science degree in computer science.

Caleb returns to his seat after graduating from Tufts University School of Engineering with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science on May 22.

HE’S GRADUATED. The son. My youngest. Through four years of college with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science from Tufts University in Medford/Somerville, Massachusetts.

Posing afterward atop the roof of the Tufts library with the Boston skyline some 10 miles in the distance.

Posing afterward atop the roof of the Tufts library with the Boston skyline some 10 miles in the distance.

I am thankful. Grateful that Caleb was given the opportunity to attend such a noted private research university as a selected transfer student. Grateful for the academic challenges he needed. Grateful for the financial gifts that enabled him to attend an institution where the annual cost of tuition far exceeds our household income.

After attending college for a year at North Dakota State University in Fargo, Caleb was accepted as a transfer student into the highly-competitive Tufts University.

After attending college for a year at North Dakota State University in Fargo, Caleb was accepted as a transfer student into the highly-competitive Tufts University and two other noted Boston colleges.

He’s grown into a strong young man of whom I am immensely proud. I am proud of his ability to leave the familiarity of Minnesota to attend college half a country away. He knew no one and learned on his own to navigate greater Boston.

Caleb graduated in four years. Had he stayed at NDSU, he would have finished in three.

Caleb graduated in four years. Had he stayed at NDSU, he would have finished in three. However, Tufts did not accept all of his college credits from high school and NDSU.

I am proud that he graduated in four years, magna cum laude.

Caleb poses in front of the school mascot, Jumbo. And, yes, that would be Jumbo of circus fame. This latest sculpture of the elephant was recently installed at Tufts.

Caleb poses in front of the school mascot, Jumbo of circus fame. This latest sculpture of the elephant was recently installed at Tufts.

I am proud, too, that he loves to learn. Caleb craves expanding his knowledge. He hopes for a research career with plans to some day attend graduate school. He’s interviewing for jobs in the Boston area. Any place would be fortunate to have him as an employee. And I’m not just saying that because I am Caleb’s mom. I have seen his focus and determination when working on tech projects. He is a problem solver, an innovator, a young man seeking solutions and answers and better ways of doing things. He wants to make a difference in this world.

Students in the School of Engineering gather for that school's commencement ceremony.

Students in The School of Engineering gather for that school’s commencement ceremony.

Commencement speaker, Emmy-award winning actor Hank Azaria who voiced numerous characters on the TV show The Simpsons, offered some good advice to graduates like Caleb. He advised the 160th Tufts graduating class to calm down, trust their instincts and they will, at the end of the day, know what to do.

The commencement ceremony begins at The School of Engineering, Tufts University.

The commencement ceremony begins for The School of Engineering, Tufts University.

Graduation is a time of adjustment and change. A scary time in many ways as young people leave the security of the educational setting. It is a time of change for Caleb and for me.

The message on this balloon probably fit the feelings of many students.

The message on this balloon probably fits the feelings of many students.

As my son continues on his life’s journey, I wish for him contentment, peace and happiness. I want him to always be passionate about his life’s chosen work, to feel joy in getting up each morning.

My husband, Randy, waits for the first of two commencement ceremonies to begin.

My husband, Randy, waits for the first of two commencement ceremonies to begin. We drove 3,029 miles round trip to attend Caleb’s graduation.

And I want him to know that, above all, he is deeply loved by his family back here in Minnesota and in Wisconsin.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for more graduation photos followed the next day by a tour of Tufts University, Medford/Somerville campus.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Watching from afar as my son’s college deals with a bomb threat May 9, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:54 AM
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At 11:37 AM, I received this email from Tufts University:

Update #2 on bomb threats on Medford/Somerville campus

There is an ongoing criminal investigation involving multiple law enforcement agencies, who are continuing to clear buildings on campus. There will be an enhanced police presence on campus for the remainder of the day. At this time, we are unable to provide information relating to that investigation. We expect to be able to provide additional information relating to final exams and campus operations shortly.
The Counseling and Mental Health Service (CMHS) at 120 Curtis Street is open for students, while faculty and staff may seek confidential support resources through the Tufts University Employment Assistance Program (EAP).

Here’s the post I finished just minutes prior to getting that email:

Bomb threats on Medford/Somerville campus (email received at 7:50 a.m.)

It’s not an email I expected to find in my in-box alerting me to a car fire and a bomb threat on the campus of Tufts University early this morning. My son is set to graduate from this Boston area college in less than two weeks.

Within a half hour of receiving that email, I spoke with him. He assured me he is safe in his apartment across from campus. Students, according to Mary Jeka, senior vice president for Tufts University Relations, have been asked to stay in their dorms and to “take care going to the dining hall.”

Jeka spoke at a recently concluded news conference which I watched live-streamed. Her words that she is “terribly concerned” about the safety of students both reassured me and rattled me.

While the bomb threat, found in a note taped to the door of the health services center concerns me, it is the additional factor of that car fire which multiplies my concern.

During the press conference, a reporter asked whether the incident could be connected to terrorism. Jeka noted she did not know the answer to that question as the investigation continues. Likewise, others raised the possibility of a connection to disputes with the campus janitorial staff. Jeka declined to speculate on that also.

Meanwhile back here in Minnesota, nearly 1,500 miles from my son, I continue to monitor the situation which has garnered coverage from major media outlets. And I’m awaiting another email from Tufts to reassure me.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shopping at the picker’s market, Part II July 19, 2015

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The barn is filled with goods, from lower level to hayloft.

The barn is filled with goods, from lower level to hayloft.

LOREN MARTIN’S BARN SALE features an eclectic mix of merchandise. Milkers, milk cans, pedal tractors, wooden chairs, crocks, lamps…

One of the many treasures packed into the hayloft.

One of the many treasures packed into the hayloft.

Way too many items to list.

A vendor.

A vendor.

He’s a picker. You have to appreciate a guy like Loren who invites folks onto his rural Medford acreage once a year to pick through his picks and those of selected vendors.

Loren has several old pick-ups for sale.

Loren has several old pick-ups for sale.

I perused his farm yard Saturday afternoon, taking it all in. The kicked back feel. The wind whipping my hair. Gravel drive and pick-up trucks. Rust and metal and memories.

Not sure if this 4-H sign is for sale.

Not sure if this 4-H sign is for sale.

I love this place, the rural junque displayed thereon.

There's plenty to see.

There’s plenty to see.

You have today (Sunday, July 19) to shop, until early evening or until the last shoppers leave. The sale opens at 8 a.m.

A vintage clothespin bag offered by a vendor.

A vintage clothespin bag offered by a vendor.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A vendor set up under the shade trees by the house.

A vendor set up under the shade trees by the house.

Spotted by the hosta.

Spotted by the hosta.

A vendor takes a lunch break.

A vendor takes a lunch break.

Lots of furniture possibilities.

Lots of furniture and decorating possibilities.

An old game for sale.

An old game for sale.

Another view of the merchandise.

Another view of the merchandise.

Stacked inside the barn door.

Stacked just inside the barn door.

Several pedal tractors were for sale, including this one reflected in a mirror.

Several pedal tractors are for sale, including this one reflected in a mirror leaning against a shed.

Vendor's merchandise on the left.

Vendor’s merchandise on the left.

FYI: Click here to read my first post about the Barn Sale. The sale is located at 5415 Frontage Road East, rural Medford, just off Interstate 35 across from the Medford Outlet Center in southern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you love vintage, check out this rural Medford barn sale July 18, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:56 PM
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ATTENTION ALL PICKERS, collectors, decorators, flea market lovers and anyone who’s interested in vintage junque.

Park along the edge of the circle drive or on Frontage Road and then amble up to the Barn Sale.

Park along the edge of the circle drive or on Frontage Road and then amble up to the Barn Sale. And, yes, the barn is packed with stuff.

Loren Martin, food scientist by day and picker on the side, is offering a farm yard full of eclectic old merchandise at his annual Barn Sale in rural Medford today (Saturday) and tomorrow. My husband and I happened upon the sale this afternoon while driving home from Owatonna.

The sale is located along Frontage Road East, about a mile from the Medford Outlet Center round-about.

The sale is located along Frontage Road East, about a mile south of the Medford Outlet Center round-about off Interstate 35.

This is the third year Loren has held his third weekend in July sale at this location, 5415 Frontage Road East, just across Interstate 35 from the Medford Outlet Center. However, he’s been a picker in southern Minnesota for 30-plus years, scouting for goods in barns and elsewhere. He’s from a family of pickers.

One of several vendors.

One of several vendors.

Folks, this sale is worth your drive. In addition to Loren’s finds packed into a barn and sheds and scattered around the farm yard, several other vendors are also peddling their wares.

A snippet of the merchandise for sale.

A snippet of the merchandise for sale. See that striped table in the center. Should have bought it for $20.

The hot items this year, according to Loren, are anything wine or garden related. And galvanized. Furniture for repurposing is also popular with shoppers.

There are lots of vintage wooden pop crates for sale.

There are lots of vintage wooden pop crates for sale.

This picker’s finds are also sold at Urban Finds at the Medford Outlet Center. And, if you’re looking for something specific anytime, ask Loren. He’s always picking.

You're in the heart of farm country in Steele County, Minnesota.

You’re in the heart of farm country in Steele County, Minnesota.

You’ve got until early evening today (Saturday, July 18) and tomorrow, beginning at 8 a.m. until early evening to shop in this rural setting next to busy Interstate 35, rural Medford. Even if you don’t purchase anything, browsing junque on a farm yard next to tasseling corn fields will give you your country fix.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Lots of rustic and country, including this old door.

Lots of rustic and country, including this old door.

A vendor grabs lunch and settles in next to a bear he's selling.

A vendor grabs lunch and settles in next to a bear he’s selling.

If you'd rather have a deer mount than a bear, another vendor had that. I asked why I often see deer heads at flea markets. The vendor answered, "Because they never sell."

If you’d rather have a deer mount than a bear, another vendor had that. I asked why I often see deer heads at flea markets. The vendor answered, “Because they never sell.”

A Hardware Hank statue.

A Hardware Hank statue.

There are some great old outbuildings on-site, including this corn crib.

There are some great old outbuildings on-site, including this corn crib.

And inside the corn crib, this chandelier was for sale.

And inside the corn crib, this chandelier was for sale.

A vendor's dog.

A vendor’s dog.

Art

Art

Rural art and more.

Rural art and more.

A cupola country touch on the corn crib.

A cupola country touch on the corn crib.

The farm yard and buildings overflow with vintage finds.

The farm yard and buildings overflow with vintage finds.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for more photos from my time at the Barn Sale.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Still in the Christmas spirit February 12, 2015

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I HAVE OFTEN WONDERED if leaving outdoor Christmas decorations outside until spring is a cold weather state phenomenon.

A snippet of the Christmas decorations on the Butler property.

A snippet of the Christmas decorations on the Butler property.

On a brief drive through Medford, Minnesota, Sunday afternoon on my way to a Chili Cook-off at Trinity Lutheran Church, I spotted a corner yard decorated as if Christmas, rather than Valentine’s Day, was only six days away.

The homemade decorations are my favorite.

The homemade decorations are my favorite.

Candy canes, penguins, mice, reindeer, elves, tipsy angels, carolers and more staked out spots in the snow.

Another view.

Decorations are both secular and religious.

The scene appeared chaotic with no cohesive theme. But who cares? I’m sure Garrett Butler takes great pleasure in sharing his Christmas love, as he’s done these displays for some 30 years. And I expect the people of Medford thoroughly enjoy his holiday lawn ornament collection.

My favorite decoration in the Butler yard.

My favorite decoration in the Butler yard.

But back to my original thought. Is it common in your part of the country for folks to leave Christmas holiday decorations in place until spring?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Artwerk, Steve style September 11, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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MY FRIEND STEVE, married to my friend Jackie, is an artist. Oh, he may not term himself as such and he prefers you call his creations artwerk rather than artwork. Seems more masculine, this bulk of a guy claims.

Conduit and pipes transformed into art for placement on Steve's wooded acreage.

Conduit, pipes and metal transformed into art for placement on Steve’s wooded acreage.

But I am 100 percent certain that the art Steve crafts from what many would term junk qualifies him as a bonafide artist. He’s even dumpster dived for art materials and salvaged items from scrap piles.

Circles and spirals appear often in Steve's art.

Circles and spirals appear often in Steve’s art.

For now this one-time welder pursues his art passion as a hobby. I’m convinced he could sell his pieces or create works on commission and have suggested such to him. He’s already selected a business name—Big “N” Ugly’s Iron Werks. Catchy. But Steve is certainly not ugly. If I remember correctly, the name relates to some crazy story from his past.

Discarded plumbing provides materials for art in a flower garden.

Discarded plumbing provides materials for art in a flower garden.

Jackie wishes this flowerbed faucet was functional.

Jackie wishes this flowerbed faucet art was functional.

Oversized chimes crafted from discarded clothing racks (etc.) and strung high in a tree.

Oversized chimes crafted from discarded clothing racks (etc.) and strung high in a tree.

He’s transformed clothing racks, tape measures, a springform pan, old faucets, a grater, conduit and more into visual, and sometimes functional, art. The pieces are strategically placed on the couple’s wooded creekside property just off a quiet county road northeast of Medford. I love their land and many times have wished aloud that I desire to retreat here until all stress has exited my life.

Conduit turned art.

Conduit turned art.

A portable outdoor functioning sink created with old faucets, springform pan, plastic pipes and more.

A portable outdoor functioning sink created with old faucets, springform pan, plastic pipes and more.

Fence art.

Fence art.

On a recent steamy summer Sunday afternoon, Steve and Jackie invited my husband and me to tour their outdoor sculpture garden featuring Steve’s vast collection of original art.

The close-up spirals on one of Steve's pieces.

The close-up spirals on one of Steve’s pieces.

A full view of the same piece above and one of the bridges Steve built.

A full view of the same piece above and one of the bridges Steve built.

Even old tape measures are worked into his art.

Even old tape measures are worked into his art.

To view his pieces is to wonder how he can possibly come up with ideas to twist and shape and bend and sculpt cast-offs into abstract art that grabs your attention for its uniqueness, cleverness and artsy appeal.

A practical use for an otherwise useless washer agitator, repurposed as a beverage holder.

A practical use for an otherwise useless washer agitator, repurposed as a beverage holder.

Boat seats repurposed as a seating area on a retaining wall.

Boat seats repurposed as a seating area on a retaining wall.

Who thinks of using a vintage meat grinder for art, then suspending it in a tree? Steve.

Who thinks of using a vintage grinder for art, then suspending it in a tree? Steve.

Talk to Steve about his artwerk and you hear his unbridled enthusiasm. This is what he’s meant to do. To create. Artwerk.

Steve has built several of these sheds, this one graced with some of the art he's crafted.

Steve has built several of these sheds, this one graced with some of the art he’s crafted.

Seriously, how does one shape barbed wire into a ball?

Seriously, how does one shape barbed wire into a ball?

A snippet of an art piece dangling high in the trees.

A snippet of an art piece dangling high in the trees.

FYI: If you are interested in purchasing Steve’s art or having him create a piece on commission, let me know via a comment here or in an email (see my “about” page). I’m tapping Steve’s creative brain about a metal headboard from my childhood. Believe me, he can turn anything into art. Anything.

Steve did not want a photo of himself published, which is why you’re not seeing one here. I have one, but…I will honor his request.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Dante’s inferno” chili & more in a Minnesota church basement February 18, 2014

Trinity Lutheran Church, Medford, Minnesota.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Medford, Minnesota.

THE SPICY SCENT OF CHILI wafted up the stairs as I entered the church late Sunday afternoon for Trinity Lutheran, Medford’s, second annual Chili Cook-Off.

A sign directs diners to the church basement.

A sign directs diners to the church basement.

I shed my winter coat, got instructions on the chili sampling process and then headed downstairs to taste, and judge, 30 homemade chilis. Twas a nearly impossible task given the numbers and the home-cooked goodness.

Trinity's basement was packed.

Dining in the church basement.

I’ve found church basement food events to be, with only one exception, superb dining experiences.

Randy and I dined with friends from our church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault.

Randy and I dined with friends from our church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault.

Here, in the fellowship of friends, I spooned chili into numbered plastic cups, ate and then attempted to choose my favorites. I had five tickets to cast five votes.

The first 12 of 30 chilies sampled.

The first 12 of 30 chilies sampled.

Some I quickly eliminated as too bland or too salty or too ordinary.

Diners spoon chili into cups.

Diners spoon chili into cups.

I was looking for something savory and different.

So many varieties to taste.

So many varieties to taste.

In one chili I detected a hint of cinnamon.

Crockpots of chili were set up on tables on opposite ends of the basement.

Crockpots of chili were set up on tables on opposite ends of the basement.

Many, as you would expect, tasted of tomato in varying degrees of intensity.

Each diner got five tickets with which to cast votes.

Lines formed to spoon up the chili.

Chocolate overwhelmed one. An attempt, perhaps, to woo the female vote?

Eighteen more chilis to try, including the (green) avocado one in the second row from the bottom.

Eighteen more chilis to try, including the (green) avocado one in the second row from the bottom.

A chili laced with chunks of avocado won my favor, while my husband, seeing the green veggies, wouldn’t even try it. His loss.

Numbered cups were stacked by the appropriately numbered chili.

Numbered cups were stacked by the appropriately numbered chili. Diners placed tickets in the boxes to vote. Kari Yule’s chili, number 17, took the trophy. And, yes, I voted for Kari’s chili, among four others.

Of one chili, number 25, the opinion seemed unanimous. This chili packed some wicked heat, so hot I motioned for Randy to refill my water glass and, after a few gulps, to “please pass the crackers.”

A list of those who made chili.

A list of those who made chili.

Afterward I would find the chili sign-up sheet upstairs in the church narthex with “Dante’s Inferno” on the list.

A trophy and first and second place medals were awarded.

A trophy and first and second place medals were awarded.

In the end, Kari Yule claimed the trophy while Amy Grayson took second and Randy Lemke (with help from niece Brandi) came in third.

A line forms near the church kitchen.

A line forms near the church kitchen.

All were winners in my eyes—especially us 120 diners.

Trinity's youth count the votes.

Trinity’s youth count the votes.

Trinity youth also earned $803 through a free will offering for the 2016 Lutheran Church Missouri Synod National Youth Gathering in New Orleans.

I'm not sure how much, if any, chili little Lauren ate. But she was there with her parents, Pastor Mark Biebighauser and his wife, Joni.

I’m not sure how much, if any, chili little Lauren ate. But she was there with her parents, Pastor Mark Biebighauser and his wife, Joni.

What a great event. If you haven’t attended a chili cook-off or partaken of food in a church basement, do. You’ll find delicious food, good company and, typically, will assist in funding a worthy cause.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling