Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Latest snowstorm in Minnesota shatters February snowfall record February 21, 2019

My neighbor blows snow from his driveway on Wednesday.

 

HEY, MINNESOTA, we did it. Yesterday’s winter storm pushed us into the snowiest February ever. The current month’s snow total in the Twin Cities as of noon Wednesday was 30.4 inches. That’s a new record, according to the National Weather Service.

 

 

The NWS February snowfall totals for the Twin Cities posted mid-day Wednesday.

 

 

This shatters the February record snowfall of 26.5 inches set 57 years ago in 1962.

 

The forecast on a Twin Cities TV station Wednesday morning predicts more snow.

 

Snow was still falling Wednesday afternoon into evening, earlier in the day at a rate sometimes reaching two inches an hour. With eight days remaining in the month and forecasts for more snow in upcoming days, that record-shattering 30.4 inches will rise even higher.

 

Another neighbor shovels her driveway. The amount of snow on the ground, in piles, everywhere, is insane.

 

Passing by on my street, a white truck in a white landscape.

 

The City of Faribault did a great job clearing streets in my neighborhood on Wednesday.

 

Bravo, Minnesota.

 

I just want the snow to stop, But we still have to get through the rest of February and then March and April.

 

But now that we’ve claimed the snowiest February ever, can we be done with winter?

 

Winter beauty from my backyard.

 

THOUGHTS? I welcome positive comments about winter and snow and waiting for spring. Or I’ll accept congratulations/sympathy on behalf of my state for this new February snowfall record.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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More than just a riddle February 20, 2019

DO KIDS STILL appreciate riddles?

When I was a kid, I loved them. Some riddles were stupid. Others silly. Many challenged me. Whichever, riddles usually made me laugh.

 

 

So when I saw one of my favorite childhood riddles posted in a newspaper stand outside the Faribault post office, I laughed, exited the van and walked across icy surfaces to photograph the posting.

Q: What’s black, white and read all over?
A: A newspaper.

I heard that riddle countless times when growing up. I liked it then, like it still, although the riddle no longer rings reality. Newspaper aren’t read all over. And that saddens me, a former journalist. Too many people no longer value newspapers. Rather, they get their news from other sources, not necessarily the most reliable sources either.

Newspapers and journalists are too often the targets of criticism, much of it unjustified. I’m not talking about the publications that call themselves newspapers, but truly are not in any sense of the word. I’m talking about legitimate “news papers” staffed by hardworking, unbiased journalists.

 

 

I value newspapers, especially community newspapers. I value the stories reporters write, yes, even the hard news. I value that newspapers keep me informed, expose me to differing viewpoints on the editorial page, alert me to happenings and issues in my community and elsewhere.

I recognize that my feelings about newspapers and journalists stand much stronger than those of most people. In my days working as a news reporter, I was attacked by individuals who disliked me quoting them or writing on an issue they’d rather not see in print. But their disdain didn’t stop me from doing my job.

We need a free press, a strong press, a press that does not cave to political or societal pressure. Our democracy depends on freedom of the press.

Q: What happens in a country without a free press?

A:

 

TELL ME: Share your thoughts or share a riddle. Please be respectful in your comments.

 

Here’s an example of a riddle my second daughter shared with the public many years ago at a roller rink:

A: How do you make a Kleenex dance?

Q: Put a little boogie in it.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bring on the snow February 19, 2019

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Wind sculpts snow into drifts in rural Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

YOU KNOW THE MINNESOTA WINTER is getting too long when your husband says…

Maybe they canceled the snow.

(He made that comment Sunday morning upon looking out the bedroom window to, once again, see snow falling, as predicted.)

 

As much as I appreciate the hard-working snowplow drivers, the constant plowing in of sidewalks and driveways (after Randy has already cleared them) increases his snow removal workload and is especially frustrating. This is the plowed in end of our sidewalk during a previous winter. But this photo could be from this winter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

They plowed the snow and blew it onto the sidewalk.

(He made that comment Monday morning upon looking out the bedroom window to see snow and chunks of snow/ice thrown onto the walk. He then suited up in his coveralls and boots to, once again, clear snow before leaving for work.

 

Randy begins the process of clearing snow from our driveway following past winter snowfall. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I got the old Minnesota work-out this morning.

(He made that comment Monday morning upon completing snow removal duty.)

 

A huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocks our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo taken in rural Vesta, Minnesota. I’m standing with my mom and four of my siblings. I remember the winters of my childhood being particularly snowy.

 

This is, it seems, the long winter, the endless winter, the forever winter. More snow is forecast for Wednesday and Saturday. Minnesota will likely break the record for snowiest February ever dating back to 1962 when 26.5 inches fell in the Twin Cities during the month. The current month metro snowfall total of 22.6 inches ranks this February as the fourth snowiest ever. I foresee no difficulty breaking that. So bring it on. If we’re going to get snow, we may as well have something to brag about.

(In Faribault I’m pretty certain we’ve exceeded that record-breaking 26.5 inches as we’ve gotten more snow than the Twin Cities. I just don’t know where to find the data to back that up.)

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Managing an especially cold & snowy Minnesota winter February 15, 2019

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My neighbor across the street moved and put his house on the market several months ago, but has yet to sell it. Now he’s clearing snow from two properties. If you’re looking for a house to buy in Faribault and want to be my neighbor…

 

THE SNOW KEEPS PILING up here in Minnesota in storm after storm after storm. And when snow isn’t falling, brutal cold settles in. This weather is taking its toll, physically and mentally.

 

The snow piles continue to grow in Faribault, here at a gas station along Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street.

 

We long for warmth and sunshine and a day without snow removal. As snow mountains obscure vision at the ends of driveways, sidewalks and street corners, clearing the snow becomes more taxing.

 

Special snow removal equipment works on the Cedar Avenue bridge over the Minnesota River on Wednesday afternoon.

 

This snow-filled truck and snow blowing tractor creep along Interstate 35 in Burnsville Wednesday afternoon.

 

During lulls between storms, snow removal crews work to widen roadways, clear snow from bridges and shoulders.

 

Ice dams and icicles on our house.

 

And then there are those ice dams forming along rooflines. I’ve never seen anything like it, the length of some icicles extending to the ground. Randy has yet to tackle the task of shoveling snow from our house and garage roofs. He can barely keep up with clearing snow from our place and that of a neighbor after a long day of work.

 

Passersby stopped to help push my elderly neighbor’s car up her snowy driveway during a recent storm. Randy warned her of the ice underneath, but…

 

A recent commute home from Northfield took him nearly an hour rather than the usual 22 minutes due to treacherous roads in a snowstorm. As an automotive machinist, he doesn’t have the option of working from home. If he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid.

Schools across the state closed an unprecedented number of times in past weeks.

 

On a day when highways were clear, Randy and I came upon a five-vehicle crash on Interstate 35 in Burnsville. Vehicles in ditches and endless crashes have marked this winter.

 

Any plans are tentative, based on weather and road conditions. Travel during bad winter weather and you risk going in the ditch, getting in an accident, becoming stuck in metro gridlock or stranded in a rural area. No, thanks. I’ll stay home and read a book.

 

Snow blows from the top of a semi tractor trailer Wednesday afternoon along Interstate 35 north of Faribault.

 

All of these challenges make winter sometimes difficult to navigate. But then I read something that causes me to pull my head out of the snowbank and smile. Like the story in the Faribault Daily News about local high school teacher Dave Wieber whose physics students video recorded kindergartners sledding. With the video data collected, they determine how fast the average student slides down the hill. How fun is that? I love when teachers get creative, make learning fun and exciting.

 

The scene exiting Interstate 35 into Faribault onto Minnesota State Highway 21 from the north.

 

And I love when a community celebrates winter with an event like last weekend’s Faribault Flannel Formal. Although I didn’t attend, I’ve seen enough photos to know this is exactly the type of event Minnesotans need in February. Flannel attire, music, drinks, contests, conversation. And hotdish.

 

A neighborhood near my home, along Fourth Avenue.

 

When I think about it, fun and creativity help many of us manage winter. New York state songwriter Linda Bonney Olin, in her song Praise God From Whom All Blizzards Flow, is a great example. She uses humor to write her “doxology for those blessed with wintry weather and a sense of humor.” It’s well worth your read. Click here and be thankful for shovels, gloves and plows. And the ability to still smile in this longest of winters.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Minnesota ice challenge February 6, 2019

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The snow boots which help me navigate through a Minnesota winter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A TIME EXISTED WHEN ICE excited me. I’d pull out my Aunt Dorothy’s hand-me-down figure skates in anticipation of an hour or two on the ice.

Oh, the nostalgia. Oh, the memories of skating on the rink (if you could call it that) next to the grain elevator in Vesta. Oh, the memories of skating across icy ponds formed in cornfields from melting snow. Skating there meant swerving around corn stubble. But when you live in a definitively rural area, you make do. And I did. And I loved to skate. Loved ice.

Now? Not so much. OK, let’s just be honest. I don’t like ice. Now that I’m well past the safe age of skating and ice poses a risk rather than a reason for fun, I avoid it. Two falls in the past two years resulting in broken bones, surgery on one and months of therapy are cause enough to practice caution. Note that neither of those breaks occurred on ice. But given I’ve experienced the results of falls, I am mindful of slick surfaces.

And we currently have an abundance of those in Minnesota from driveways to sidewalks to parking lots to roadways. It is the nature of winter, some winters worse than others. And this one seems to be especially bad with bitter cold temps and fog and freezing rain and snow creating slippery surfaces upon which we must navigate.

So how do I manage, especially when walking? I shuffle like the old (er) person I am. I walk around icy patches if possible. I hang onto the husband (hey, nothing like going down together) or whatever vehicle. I wear my snow boots with their semi gripping tread. I stay clear of paths covered by snow and/or ice if possible.

But, unless I sequester myself inside until May, I can’t fully avoid every potentially bone-breaking surface. Rather, I need to be mindful, use common sense and hope that spring arrives sooner rather than later.

TELL ME: Have you (or someone you know) experienced a fall, or near fall, on an icy surface? What were the results? How do you stay safe if you live in a cold weather climate?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An, oh, so Minnesotan celebration at Faribault Flannel Formal February 5, 2019

 

Me in flannel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MINNESOTA STATE LEGISLATORS recently considered the Labrador retriever as our state dog. The loon is our state bird, the Lady Slipper our state flower. And so on.

Now, if our elected officials decided we also need a state winter dress code, I’d push for flannel shirt and jeans. That’s my outfit of choice from late autumn into spring, or whenever winter ends. Because I work out of my home office, Friday casual fits daily. And because I’ve never been pegged as a fashionista (ask my sister who got my childhood hand-me-down clothes and still reminds me to this day of my horrible fashion sense), I embrace comfortable attire. Like blue jeans and flannel.

 

Source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

So does my community. From 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. this Saturday, February 9, Faribault Main Street celebrates its annual Faribault Flannel Formal. It’s a fitting event for Minnesota, home of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan, typically dressed in red and black buffalo plaid flannel and sturdy jeans.

 

Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

To promote the event, locals have been wearing flannel to work and about town on Flannel Fridays.

 

Legendary Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo.

 

The lumberjack theme is very much a part of the Faribault event at 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers and adjoining Corks and Pints in the heart of our historic downtown, just a block off Central Avenue. The dress code obviously calls for flannel with honors awarded to the best-dressed lumberjack and lumberjane.

 

A ticket to the Formal will get you a free commemorative jar. I love these. Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

Attendees can also get into the Paul Bunyan spirit by competing in lumberjack themed games—the giant beaver toss, hammerschlagen and duck the branch.

 

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Another Minnesota staple—hotdish (not casserole)—also is an integral part of the Faribault Flannel Formal. Folks are invited to cook up their favorite hotdishes for sampling and a $100 Chamber Check top prize. Who doesn’t love hotdish, the ultimate Minnesota winter comfort food? I’ll take Minnesotan Amy Thielen’s Chicken and Wild Rice Hotdish, thank you. She hosts Heartland Table on Food Network, among other accomplishments.

No Formal is complete without music. The Rochester Caledonian Bagpipers kick off the evening with the classic rock tribute band Horizontal Hero following.

 

Past Faribault Flannel Formal attendees. Photo compliments of Faribault Main Street.

 

While I’ve not attended a Formal yet, I’m pretty certain I’d enjoy it. I mean, I wouldn’t need to dress up. The challenge would come in choosing which flannel shirt to wear. Blue/gray/black? Red/black/gold? Green and black? Teal/black/subtle orange? Green and brownish? Yup lots of choices in my closet.

 

Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

FYI: For more info on the Faribault Flannel Formal, including tickets, click here.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When the granddaughter stays over February 4, 2019

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IN THE LIVING ROOM, a ballerina guides a train along tracks…

 

 

then dances across the carpet, tulle flaring as applause roar.

 

 

In the kitchen, an elephant stomps. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. Then asks for a cookie.

 

 

Along the river bank, snowboots slap on wet pavement edging the river and the ice-boxed rushing waterfall. The need to walk, to run, to just be outdoors prevails following days of near record-breaking brutal cold.

 

 

Then, beneath the bridge along the recreational trail, vehicles thump overhead while three walk, one trailing.

 

 

Back inside the house, two snuggle under a fleece and blue jeans blanket and read of baby robins and bunnies and warm days of spring.

Then preschool arms reach, wrap around neck and speak the sweetest of words. “I love you, Grandma!”

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling