Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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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

 

A photo essay: Life on a Saturday in southern Minnesota September 8, 2013

IF EVER I DOUBT carting my camera with me nearly everywhere, I need only consider the photos I snapped on Saturday in rural Minnesota. The images show snippets of everyday life, of moments and places that seem not extraordinary at first pause, but which are extraordinary for the stories they tell. This is life.  These are the moments of our days, the Main Streets of our towns, the way we live.

And I delight in all of it, in this place I call home, this southern Minnesota.

Mid-morning Saturday, while I was watering my flowers, a mini tractorcade puttered past my Faribault home. By the time I realized what I was seeing and retrieved my camera from my office, I

Mid-morning Saturday, while watering flowers, a mini tractorcade puttered past my Faribault home. By the time I realized what I was seeing and retrieved my camera from my office, I was able to photograph only the tail end of the line. Lesson learned: Grab my Canon before going outside to water flowers.

Over in Owatonna in the afternoon, I shot this signage in the heart of downtown. Walt the Barber. I expect he could spin a story or ten.

Over in Owatonna in the afternoon, I shot this signage in the heart of downtown. Walt the Barber. I expect he could spin a story or ten.

Perhaps Owatonna's best-known historic building,

Perhaps Owatonna’s best-known historic building, the old National Farmer’s Bank Building, considered by some to be “the most beautiful bank in the world.” I’ve toured it previously and can vouch for the accuracy of that description. Chicago architect, Louis Sullivan, designed the bank, built in 1908. It’s a must-see.

On the opposite side of the street from the bank, I spotted this cooler of fresh sweetcorn outside of Party-Plus of Owatonna.

On the opposite side of the street from the bank, I spotted this sign in the front window and this cooler of fresh sweetcorn outside of Party-Plus of Owatonna. My husband had already purchased sweetcorn earlier in the day for more money, so we didn’t need any. If you’re looking for anything party related, this store offers a great inventory of products.

I stopped at family-owned Owatonna Shoe and snapped 40 photos, the best of which I will share in a later post. For now you'll have to settle for this exterior shot.

I stopped at family-owned Owatonna Shoe and snapped 40 photos, the best of which I will share in a later post. For now you’ll have to settle for this exterior shot with that delightful OPEN TODAY til 5:00 postscript. I’ll also feature photos from “Steele County: Butter Capitol of the World,” an exhibit at the Steele County History Center and my reason for visiting Owatonna on Saturday.

I love beautiful historic architecture. Driving by Kristi's Clothing in downtown Owatonna, I zipped down the window and shot this image of one splendid detailed building.

I love beautiful, historic architecture. Driving by Kristi’s Clothing in downtown Owatonna, I zipped down the window and shot this image of one stunning building. Look at that sweet balcony and the detailed art.

Instead of bar hopping, this bridal party stopped at an Owatonna ice cream shop for sweet treats. I captured this scene as my husband and I were leaving the downtown area.

Instead of bar hopping, this bridal party stopped at an ice cream shoppe. I captured this scene as my husband and I were leaving downtown Owatonna and heading back to Faribault via County Road 45. No Interstate 35 for us due to road construction.

The Congregational United Church of Christ posted this sign on its message board along the main drag through Medford.

The Congregational United Church of Christ posted this message in the heart of Medford. I love these faith-based messages because they always cause me to reflect. Mini sermons, I call them.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural Minnesota, the place of my heart February 27, 2013

Montgomery, Minnesota, on a Sunday afternoon.

Montgomery, Minnesota, on a Sunday afternoon. That’s the Cannon Valley Co-op over the hill and to the right.

I NEVER TIRE of these snippets of small town life—the instant my eye catches a scene or a setting or a detail.

At the Mobil station in Medford on a Saturday afternoon.

At the Mobil station in Medford on a Saturday afternoon.

In those moments my heart sings with thankfulness that I live in a relatively rural region.

No need for bike racks in Montgomery.

Just drop the bike in downtown Montgomery.

While rural does not equate utopia or a life any less troubled or any more joyful than city life, this land is where I belong.

Just off Minnesota Highway 99 along a curve on Minnesota 21 heading toward Montgomery.

Just off Minnesota Highway 99 along a curve on Minnesota 21 heading toward Montgomery.

Growing up, I felt more comfortable inside a dairy barn than inside my pink-walled bedroom.

Along the same highway...

Along the same highway…

My connection to barns lingers as I’m drawn to photograph these disappearing rural landmarks.

Utility poles break the horizontal landscape along Minnesota 21.

Utility poles break the horizontal landscape along Minnesota 21.

My eyes link with lines, always the lines.

Ready to plow snow in Montgomery.

Ready to plow snow in Montgomery.

I am not a big city lights, traffic jams, hurry here, hurry there kind of girl.

Minnesota State Highway 21 between Shieldsville and Montgomery.

Minnesota State Highway 21 between Shieldsville and Montgomery.

I am a country dark, tractor in the field, meandering Sunday afternoon drive kind of girl.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling