Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Difficult Mother’s Day experiences & what I learned May 5, 2022

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My friend Kathleen recently created an altered book honoring my mom, who died in January. She included a copy of this 2016 photo of my three adult children. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

TRAUMA WRITES INTO my Mother’s Day history. Two events. Two Mother’s Days. Two memories that, even with the passing of time, remain vivid.

The first occurred in May 1987. Randy and I had just gotten off the phone with our moms. We wished them Happy Mother’s Day and then told them we were expecting our second child, due in November. The grandmas were excited. We were delighted to share the news.

And then it happened. The bleeding. The panic when I realized what was happening. The call to the ER with instructions to lie down and see my doctor in the morning. I recall lying in bed, flat on my back, overwhelmed by fear. “I don’t want to lose my baby,” I sobbed and prayed.

How could this be happening? Moments earlier we’d shared such good news. And now the future of our baby seemed uncertain.

Miranda, five days old. Photo source: hospital photo

In the end, we didn’t lose that precious baby girl born to us six months later. Miranda. Beautiful in every way.

Fast forward to the morning of May 12, two days before Mother’s Day in 2006. Miranda was a senior in high school, her older sister just returned home from college. And their little brother, Caleb, 12, was on his way to the bus stop. Then the unthinkable happened. While crossing the street to his bus, Caleb was struck by a car. He bounced off the car, somersaulted, landed on the side of the road.

The moment when I heard the sirens, when I instinctively knew deep within me that something had happened to my son, terror unlike anything I’d ever felt gripped me. I can’t explain how or why I knew. I just did.

I have a file thick with information related to my son’s hit-and-run. The file includes newspaper clippings, e-mail correspondence with the police, medical and insurance papers and more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In the end, Caleb suffered only a broken bone in his hand, cracked ribs, bumps and bruises. While it was a terrifying experience—compounded by the driver who left the scene and to this day has not been found—we felt relief in the outcome.

Even though I endured those Mother’s Day traumas in 1987 and in 2006, I did not lose a child. But in those experiences I gained empathy—for those who have lost children through miscarriage, still birth, disease, illness, accident, violence, suicide… And if that’s you, I am deeply sorry for the pain, grief and loss you’ve felt and feel.

My daughter Miranda and me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2016.)

Through those experiences I realized how deep my motherly love, how my children hold my heart in a way that the very thought of losing them caused me such angst. I would do anything to protect them from harm. Anything. Even today.

My son and I in 2016, when he graduated from Tuft’s University, Boston skyline in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo by Randy Helbling)

Through those experiences I grew stronger. And I recognized that, no matter what, we are not alone. When Caleb was hit by the car, our family received overwhelming support from family, friends, his school and the greater community. There were prayers, encouraging cards and phone calls, a stuffed animal and even a gift certificate to Dairy Queen. What love, compassion and care.

To my dear readers who are mothers, you are cherished, valued, loved. And the children you raised/are raising are equally as cherished, valued and, above all, loved.

TELL ME: If you have a story or thoughts you would like to share about being a mom or about what your mom meant/means to you, please comment. I’d love to hear from you.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, how Mom loved the Kentucky Derby May 4, 2022

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Watching the 2015 Kentucky Derby in the auditorium at The Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, during a “Big Hats & Big Hearts event. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

MAY, MORE THAN any month, reminds me of my mom. And not just because of Mother’s Day.

Mom’s birthday falls in late May. She would have turned 90 this year.

A guest arrives for the Derby party at the Paradise Center for the Arts in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

May also means Kentucky Derby time, an annual event Mom looked forward to with unbridled enthusiasm. It wasn’t only the horses which drew her interest. It was the fashion. Mom loved the big hats, the showiness of this social gathering.

I remember phone conversations when Mom talked about the upcoming Derby. I regret that she never attended the Kentucky race. But she saw several horse races at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minnesota. I have no doubt she would have loved the Kentucky Derby events set there for Saturday, including the Derby Fashion Show followed by live screening of the actual race.

This year’s race holds special interest for Minnesota as two of the horses are owned by Minnesotans. I expect Mom would have chosen Zandon or Zozos to win. Jeff Drown of Clearwater owns Zandon, #2 in the leaderboard rank. And Barry and Joni Butzow of Eden Prairie own Zozos, ranked #17. Both Drown and the Butzows have a long history in racehorse ownership.

Dressed in Derby Day fanciness, attendees view a hat-themed exhibit in the Paradise Center for the Arts gallery in 2015. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

And my mom had a long history of loving horse racing. And of loving the fancy, wide-brimmed Derby hats adorned with flowers, feathers, bows, ribbons… Fashion focus didn’t fit Mom at all. She was a no-frills kind of woman. Basic wardrobe of nothing flashy or fancy. But when it came to the Kentucky Derby, she was fully-engaged in appreciating fashion.

Fresh mint leaves for the mint juleps. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

This year, especially (four months after her death), I remember Mom’s unbridled joy in the Kentucky Derby—both the fashion and the race. I wish I could sit by her side, both of us sporting fancy Derby hats, sipping mint juleps, watching the race live on the screen.

My friend Beth Ann gifted me with official Kentucky Derby glasses from 1986 and 1991. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Yet, I can honor her via memories and via the horse art which I pull out each May. A paint-by-number horse scene purchased at a second-hand store. A painting of horses by my father-in-law. And two Derby drinking glasses gifted to me by a friend.

I purchased this stunning 24-inch x 18-inch paint-by-number painting at a Wisconsin second-hand/collectible/antique shop. The scene reminds me of the Kentucky Derby. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

There is comfort in memories, in remembering how very much my mom loved the Kentucky Derby. This Saturday, when I settle in to watch the horse race, I’ll think of Mom and how she delighted in “Southern Belle” inspired fashion while watching the Derby on TV from her Minnesota home.

NOTE: This is the first in three mother-themed blog posts leading up to Mother’s Day on Sunday, the day after the Kentucky Derby.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Focus on mental health after Naomi Judd’s death May 3, 2022

This message refers to the struggles with mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019)

A DAY BEFORE Mental Health Awareness Month began on May 1, the Judd family lost their beloved Naomi “to the disease of mental illness.” She was a wife, a mother and a country western superstar singer. That the family chose to publicly attribute Naomi’s cause of death to mental illness shows strength and honesty. And a desire to increase awareness.

On my reading list…

Naomi was open about her severe, treatment resistant depression. She wrote about her mental illness in a book, River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope, in 2016. I have yet to read this book, but I will. Soon.

Reflecting on Naomi’s death focused my thoughts on the many books I’ve read in recent years about mental health related topics. I’ve reviewed numerous books on my blog and written on the topic often. Why? Because I care. I care that people understand depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, anxiety… I care that we show compassion, support, encouragement and more to those dealing with these often overwhelmingly challenging and debilitating diseases. I care that stigmas vanish, that treatment options improve, that access to mental health care is easily and readily available to anyone anywhere anytime.

Love this message posted along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I care, too, that no one feels alone. That anyone dealing with a mental health issue understands they are loved, valued and cherished. That families, too, feel supported.

Much progress has been made in recent years to shine the light on mental health. I appreciate that. And I appreciate the efforts of groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness. But, still, it is up to each of us individually to do what we can to educate ourselves and increase awareness, to offer love and support… To be there. To listen. To recognize the value of professional help.

Clinical depression like Naomi Judd experienced is deep and dark and debilitating. She couldn’t talk herself/smile herself/lift herself out of the depths of such depression. Not alone. That’s what we all need to understand. Hers wasn’t situational depression. Hers was persistent, powerful, all-encompassing. And, in the end, it killed her.

I find that reading or hearing personal stories is often the best way to understand anything. That includes mental health. For that reason, I recommend you read one or more of the following books, which I’ve previously reviewed on this blog (click on the title to read my review):

I highly-recommend this book, which is why it tops my list. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Behind the Wall—The True Story of Mental Illness as Told by Parents by Mary Widdifield and Elin Widdifield

Written by a former Minnesota state representative, now an advocate on mental health issues.

Fix What You Can—Schizophrenia and a Lawmaker’s Fight for Her Son by Mindy Greiling

The author writes about her clinical depression.

Simply Because We are Human by K.J. Joseph

The author writes about his wife’s bipolar and the affect on their family.

Unglued—A Bipolar Love Story by Jeffrey Zuckerman

A must-read for connecting and ministering within faith communities.

One other book, which I’ve read and highly-recommend (but have not reviewed) is Troubled Minds—Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission by Amy Simpson. A friend referred me to this book and it’s a must-read. I’ve marked the pages with about a dozen Post-It notes. It’s that good, that invaluable for faith communities. Anyone really.

Thank you for reading this post. Thank you for caring about mental health. Thank you for doing your part to shine the light. To be the light.

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TELL ME: Are there any books about mental health that you recommend? Or, if you have other thoughts to share on the topic, please do. We can all learn from one another.

RESOURCES:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers online, telephone and in-person support (through local chapters). Call the HelpLine at 800-950-6264.

Reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections from Redwood & Rice counties on NATIVE LIVES MATTER May 2, 2022

Part of a temporary public art installation at Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

IN THE GEOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND of my childhood, I knew of the “Indian Reservations” to the northwest near Granite Falls and then to the east near Morton. My hometown of Vesta sits between the two, no longer referred to as “reservations” but as the Upper Sioux Indian Community and the Lower Sioux Indian Community.

A Dakota man and Alexander Faribault are depicted trading furs in this sculpture at Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Ivan Whillock created the sculpture which graces the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain in my community of Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

Today I live 120 miles to the east in Faribault, next to Wapacuta Park. Rice County is the homeland of the Wahpekute (not Wapacuta), a tribal band of the Dakota.

The Earth Day art carried two messages: NATIVE LIVES MATTER and CLIMATE JUSTICE. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

A temporary public art installation at the recent Earth Day Celebration in neighboring Northfield prompted me to reflect on Indigenous people in southern Minnesota. Growing up in Redwood County, my knowledge of area Native Americans focused primarily on “The Sioux Uprising.” History teachers then used that term, rather than the current-day “US-Dakota War of 1862,” which should tell you a thing or ten about how biased that perspective back in the 1970s. How thankful I am that my awareness and understanding have grown and that attitudes are shifting to better reflect all sides of history.

The message grows, blossoms in the Earth Day art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

The NATIVE LIVES MATTER message bannering the art installation at Northfield’s Earth Day event reinforces a Land Acknowledgment Statement adopted by the City of Northfield in November 2020. That reads as follows:

We stand on the homelands of the Wahpekute and other Bands of the Dakota Nation. We honor with gratitude the people who have stewarded the land throughout the generations and their ongoing contributions to this region. We acknowledge the ongoing injustices that we have committed against the Dakota Nation, and we wish to interrupt this legacy, beginning with acts of healing and honest storytelling about this place.

NATIVE LIVES MATTER fits the spirit of the Land Acknowledgment Statement. Those three words caused me to pause, to think, to consider what I’d been taught all those decades ago and how my thinking has shifted as I’ve aged, opened my mind and learned.

Dakota beadwork displayed and photographed at the Rice County Historical Society Museum, Faribault, in 2010. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

The Rice County Historical Society, which exhibits a collection of Native American artifacts in its Faribault museum, shares a statement similar to the City of Northfield’s on its website:

We acknowledge that the land that is now Rice County, MN, was their (Dakota) homeland and for many tribal members today, it is still their home.

In all of this, I feel a sense of gratitude regarding increasing public recognition of the land history and contributions of Indigenous People in Minnesota. In my home area of Redwood County, nearly 1,000 individuals from the Mdewakanton Band of Dakota call the Lower Sioux Indian Community home. To the east in Yellow Medicine County near Granite Falls, nearly 500 individuals from the Dakota Oyate call the Upper Sioux Indian Community home.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on Dec. 26, 1862. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

I hope educators in my home area are today teaching students about the local Dakota and even bringing elders into classrooms. I graduated, after all, from Wabasso High School, the name Wabasso coming from a Native word meaning “white rabbit.” I would then go on to attend college in Mankato, site of the largest mass execution in the US with 38 Dakota killed in a public hanging on December 26, 1862.

I would be remiss if I did not share that, during the US-Dakota Conflict of 1862, family members on my mom’s side fled their rural Courtland farm for safety in St. Peter. They later put in a claim to the US government for crop loss.

Details on a sign outside the Cathedral of our Merciful Savior in Faribault. Bishop Henry Whipple, who served here, advocated for the rights of Native Americans and had a strong friendship with them. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

Now, 160 years after that event in my ancestors’ history, I continue growing my knowledge, widening my understanding of Minnesota history and of the Indigenous people who first called this land home.

A graphic of Minnesota is painted on the back of the art installation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

FYI: Please click here to read previous posts I’ve written on the US-Dakota War (also called Conflict) of 1862.

Also, I suggest you read an article on the Minnesota Public Radio website about efforts to change the Minnesota State flag. The flag depicts, among other details, a Native American in the background riding off into the sunset while a settler focuses the foreground, hands on a plow, rifle nearby. I agree that change is needed. But, as too often happens, the issue has become politically-charged.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Archer House, once brick strong April 29, 2022

The Archer House River Inn in Northfield, following a devastating November 2020 fire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

ONCE UPON A TIME, three little pigs built three houses from assorted materials in an effort to keep the Big Bad Wolf from gaining entry. They soon discovered that houses constructed of straw and of sticks were easily blown over by a huffing, puffing, determined wolf. But, oh, the last house—the one built of bricks—stood strong. When the wolf attempted to gain entry through the chimney, he fell into a kettle of boiling water and that was the end of him. The pigs had anticipated his plan when they started a roaring fire in the hearth.

The fire began here, in the Smoqe House. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)
Shortly after the fire, the front entry to the historic Archer House River Inn. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)
The fenced lot where the Archer House River Inn once stood in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

In real life, stories involving fire typically don’t end fabulously either. Such is the story of the historic 1877 Archer House River Inn. Today only a fenced, vacant lot marks the location of this iconic downtown Northfield landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. A November 2020 fire, which started in a commercial smoker inside Smoqehouse (a BBQ restaurant), resulted in the eventual total loss of the brick building. Water and weather, along with the original fire, took their toll. Portions of the structure eventually collapsed as time lapsed.

Much of the sprawling building complex remained following the initial fire. But, in the end, it couldn’t be saved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

For the community of Northfield, losing the Archer House was about more than losing a building which housed a riverside inn, restaurants and shops. It was about losing a lovely sprawling space that anchored the downtown along Division Street. The Archer House was the place of stories, of history, of memories. And so much more.

Debris from the Archer House inside the fenced lot. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Now bricks salvaged from the Archer House will be sold to benefit the Northfield Historical Society. The Archer House Brick Sale happens from 9 am – 4 pm Saturday, April 30, at the NHS Museum Store. That’s located just across from Bridge Square, a community gathering spot downtown by the Cannon River, and just blocks from the fenced Archer House lot.

A side view of the former Archer House site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo February 2022)

Since this is a fundraiser that also allows access to a bit of history, the bricks are priced accordingly. Half a brick will cost $10. A complete brick, $20. Discounts are offered with three bricks for $50 and seven bricks for $100. A trailer load of bricks will be sold, the size of that trailer not noted.

The exterior of the Northfield Historical Society, 408 Division Street, Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

In the end, there’s a bit of good in such immense community loss. Monies from the brick sale will go toward preservation of the Scriver Building, which houses the historical society. It was formerly the First National Bank, where the James-Younger Gang failed in an attempted bank robbery in September 1876.

Photographed from the library across the street shortly after the fire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

There’s a sequel to this tragic fire tale. Rebound Partners, the Northfield firm which owned the Archer House, plans to rebuild. Rebound promises to honor the history and riverside location in a mixed use building. It will never be the same as the historic Archer House. But Rebound’s past projects show their respect for history and for community. And that says a lot. The Big Bad Wolf, as in the story of The Three Little Pigs, cannot destroy a building built of bricks, at least not in memory and in history.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota weather talk about this non-spring of 2022 April 28, 2022

At the confluence of the Straight and Cannon Rivers in Faribault, the landscape appears more autumn than spring-like. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

MINNESOTANS LOVE to talk weather. And for good reason. Weather shapes our lives—what we do on any given day, how we feel, where we go…

At the April 23 Earth Day Celebration in Northfield, moody grey skies clouded the day. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

And right now, when we should be in the throes of spring, we Minnesotans feel like we’re stuck in winter. It’s been an unseasonably cold and rainy April that has truly dampened spirits. We want, OK, need, sunshine and warmth after too many months of winter. That said, I really shouldn’t complain. Up North, snow still layers the ground and ice 20 inches thick freezes some lakes.

Treetops riverside against a grey sky in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)
Autumns leaves remain, not yet replaced by spring growth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)
Devoid of color, the dock and river at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Yet, no matter where you live in Minnesota, day after day after day of grey skies coupled with low temps in the 20s and 30s takes a psychological toll. I should be wearing a spring jacket rather than a winter coat. My tulips should be blooming. Heck, the dandelions should be pushing through neighbors’ lawns. Trees should be budding green.

I spotted clam shells among dried leaves in the river bottom at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Instead, the overall landscape appears, well, pretty darned drab.

Canadian geese swim where the Straight and Cannon Rivers meet in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

But, last Saturday we experienced a one-day reprieve of unseasonable warmth with the temp soaring to nearly 80 degrees. Typical high this time of year is around 60 degrees. It was a get-outside day. Don’t-waste-a-moment-indoors day. So Randy and I didn’t. We attended the Earth Day Celebration in Northfield, enjoyed craft beer at Chapel Brewing along the banks of the Cannon River in Dundas, walked a section of the Straight River Trail in Faribault and later followed part of the trail along the Cannon in North Alexander Park. Strong winds factored into every facet of our time outdoors, though.

An angler makes his way toward the Cannon River in shirt-sleeve weather on April 23. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

But, oh, how glorious to walk in warmth.

I zoomed in on this fungi high in a tree along the recreational trail in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

This feeling of remaining stuck in perpetual winter will end. I need to remind myself of that…even as the forecast for more rain and unseasonably cold temps (highs in the 40s) prevails.

TELL ME: What’s the weather like where you live?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

UPcycleMN: From jeans jackets to Boomerang Bags April 27, 2022

The label that tags UPcycleMN products. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

REDUCE. RECYCLE. REUSE. Those three verbs theme an environmentally-conscious business established by a retired Northfield children’s programming librarian. Kathryn Ness, “CEO & Head Scrounger,” who holds degrees in Fiber Arts and Art History, champions those 3 Rs in UPcycleMN.

The UPcycleMN tent at Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration showcases jackets crafted from blue jeans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

I met Ness at Northfield’s recent Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. A bold SAY NO! PLASTIC BAGS sign initially drew me to her vendor tent. There I admired blue jean jackets stitched together from used jeans. And I saw a basket filled with Take-n-Sew kits for Boomerang Bags. Ness was also giving away those cloth bags.

Kits to create Boomerang Bags. ((Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

A brief conversation with this artist revealed that she introduced the Boomerang Bags project (which originated in Australia) to the area while working at the library. At one time libraries in the Southeastern Libraries Cooperating system bagged patrons’ books in plastic bags. Today the libraries use locally-made cloth bags. In Northfield, volunteers have sewn 4,000 Boomerang Bags from donated fabric, according to the UPcycleMN website.

A jacket crafted from upcycled wool. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Ness wants to eliminate single use plastic bags and also bring awareness to plastic and fabric waste in Northfield. But she’s not just making a statement. She’s doing something. Thus her UPcycleMN business focusing on taking a new or used item and creating something else from it to keep it out of the landfill. She collects fabric, upholstery remnants, curtains, old blue jeans and more to craft jackets, Fab-baskets, table runners, bags, totes…

Artsy fabric incorporated into a jacket crafted from blue jeans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

She brings her artistic background and talents to her work, assisted by her daughter, Krista Ness Mullen. Her interest in the arts stretches back to junior high school art classes, where she learned batik, macrame’ and weaving.

A Boomerang Bag at my library in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2018)

Today, with a focus on upcycling and the environment, Ness is stitching a message of reduce, recycle, reuse into the fabric of the Northfield community. And beyond.

FYI: You’ll find Ness marketing her UpcycleMN products and her environmental-friendly message at places like Northfield’s Riverwalk Market Fair, the Rustic Mamas’ Market in Owatonna and the Northfield Garden Club Tour. Visit her website for more information.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A glimpse of Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration April 26, 2022

A banner marks Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

WARM WEATHER, albeit wildly windy, drove Minnesotans outdoors on Saturday to embrace a partial-day reprieve from the cold and rain defining this April.

An overview of a section of the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

For Randy and me, that included a short drive to neighboring Northfield in the afternoon to check out the Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. I expected the event to draw a lot of locals and students from Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges. It did.

While the Earth Day Celebration happens behind them, these guys fish. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

In and surrounding Bridge Square, exhibitors shared information on topics ranging from climate change to water quality to composting to healthcare access and much more. Vendors from the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market also set up shop. And kids created at several stations just a stone’s throw from fishermen angling in the Cannon River.

Near the river in Bridge Square, this temporary art installation focuses two messages: “NATIVE LIVES MATTER” and “CLIMATE JUSTICE.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

We mostly meandered, our stay cut short by raindrops. I zipped my camera inside my sweatshirt as we headed back to the van.

Bannering for a cause at the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Yet, even during my brief time at Northfield’s April 23 Earth Day gathering, I felt the passion for taking care of this planet. Of being responsible stewards. Of engaging in conversation. Of doing our part.

A sign on the UPcycleMN tent grabbed my attention. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

It’s refreshing to see, especially when I observe all the exposed winter-tossed garbage along roadways and read about endangered Minnesota rivers, our shorter winters and so many other climate and environmental concerns.

An example of an upcycled blue jean jacket crafted by Kathryn Ness of UPcycleMN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

I delighted in meeting former Northfield librarian Kathryn Ness who identifies herself as “CEO & Head Scrounger” at UpcycleMN. Signage and jean jackets drew me to her vendor tent and a short conversation. She upcycles used jeans into “new” jean jackets, crafts cloth bags and more. Kathy reminds me of my Uncle Bob, who weaves old jeans, bedspreads and more into beautiful, durable rag rugs. They are artists who are doing their part for our earth while creating.

Bridge Square is often a canvas for chalk art, including during the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Attending Earth Day in Northfield gives me hope. Hope because people care about this earth, this place we call home.

TELL ME: Did you attend an Earth Day celebration?

Please check back for additional posts that focus on UPcycleMN and on the temporary art installation.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those Northfield cows April 25, 2022

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Holstein cow art adorns the milkhouse on the barn of friends in rural Dundas (near Northfield). These farmers once milked Holsteins. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2011)

NOW BILLED AS “A Classic American River Town” by the local tourism office, Northfield fits that description. This southern Minnesota community, where the James-Younger gang was defeated in 1876, hugs the Cannon River. The historic downtown is filled with mostly home-grown shops and eateries. And, as cliché as it sounds, Northfield is quaint and charming.

I love Northfield. If the cost of houses in 1984 had not been significantly higher than in neighboring Faribault, Randy and I would be living there. Instead, Randy has commuted from Faribault to Northfield to work as an automotive machinist for too many decades. But such is life and we’re happy to call Faribault home.

“Protect the herd” plays off the city’s “Cows, Colleges & Contentment” slogan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

But back to Northfield. There was a time when this city actively tagged its community with the phrase “Cows, Colleges & Contentment.” That slogan still graces some signage. I observed a cow-themed sign encouraging masking early in the pandemic. “Protect the herd” focused the message from the City of Northfield. I thought that incredibly powerful and catchy. You know, we’re all in this together type attitude. Care about one another.

I understand how “contentment” fits this community. And colleges, too, as Northfield is home to St. Olaf and Carleton colleges.

The blue cow I spotted recently in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

But I didn’t quite get the “cows” part until I found an explanation on the Visit Northfield website. In summary, in the late 1890s, a local farmer/newspaper editor suggested Northfield could attract businesses by focusing on breeding of Holstein cows. That eventually happened with 5,532 Holstein dairy cattle and 261 breeders in the area by 1916, a Northfield Holstein Club and the moniker, “Holstein Capital of America,” attached to Northfield. The aforementioned colleges also established Holstein herds. I encourage you to read the full story about the Northfield cows by clicking here.

Downtown Bicycles’ blue cow image. Now, what’s with the hot dog? (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

On a recent walk through downtown Northfield, I didn’t see any Holsteins. But I happened upon a blue cow painted on an orange door. The cow graphic marks Downtown Bicycles, 321 Division Street. Seeing that cow brought to mind the “Cows, Colleges & Contentment” theme, which led me to uncover the story behind the bovines of Northfield.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grieving in Minnesota, three tragedies April 23, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
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Third grader Henry Johnson of Nerstrand Charter School created this vivid work of art for a Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Published with this post for illustration purposes only. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I CONTEMPLATED WHETHER I should write about the tragic deaths of four Minnesota children recently. But it’s important for me, in some small way, to pause and share that which imprints sadness upon my heart. To lose a child is perhaps life’s deepest sorrow.

The first tragedy happened on April 15 in rural Wabasso—I graduated from Wabasso High School—in southwestern Minnesota. Braxton Welch, 20 months, died after being struck by a vehicle driven by his dad. I cannot even begin to fathom the grief this family is experiencing. This is personal to me because I know the Welch family back a few generations. I knew Braxton’s deceased great grandfather Gary, who lived in my hometown of Vesta and worked as a mechanic at my Uncle Harold’s service station. And I babysat Braxton’s grandfather (Gary’s son), Troy, and siblings a few times as a teen. Now Troy has lost his grandson, a sweet little boy with the brightest blue eyes. Braxton loved dancing and giggling and his big brother. And I expect so much more.

To the west, in rural Lynd, a 9-year-old girl (not yet identified) has died after being shot in the head on April 18. Authorities are classifying the shooting as “accidental.” Again, an unfathomable tragedy. UPDATE, April 26, 2022: The Lyon County Sheriff’s Department has identified Caitlin Renee Demuth as the young girl who died as a result of this tragic shooting. A public visitation will be held from 5 – 7 pm Friday, April 29, at the Hamilton Funeral Home in Marshall.

And then way up north, in the port city of Duluth, the Barry family was found shot to death in their beds on April 20. The victims include mom, Riana, 44; dad, Sean, 47; and their daughters, Shiway, 12, and Sadie, 9. The identified shooter, their 29-year-old nephew/cousin, also died, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police continue their investigation into the motive while publicly stating the shooter struggled with mental health issues. This murder-suicide, resulting in the deaths of two children and three adults in a single family circle, is undeniably tragic. It is almost too much to bear and my heart absolutely breaks for everyone touched by this tragedy, especially family and friends but also the greater Duluth community and responding law enforcement.

Friends have set up a GoFundMe account to help extended family pay for the Barrys’ funerals and for travel and other expenses. I encourage you to visit that site, donate if you can and pause to read the comments written by those connected to the Barry family. You will read of a kind, loving and generous family who welcomed newcomers, of two little girls who sold Girl Scout cookies, of guinea pigs and bike riding and all those ordinary life events that, in death, take on new meaning.

Tears flow. I feel emotionally drained. My heart hurts. Yet, I recognize that what I feel is nothing compared to the friends and families of Braxton; the little girl from Lynd; and the Barry family. To experience their loss and grief seems incomprehensible. Tragic beyond words.

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FYI: A public vigil for the Barry family will be held on Sunday evening, April 24, outside the family’s home at 715 E. 12th Street in Duluth. A short program begins at 8 pm with the lighting of holiday lights on the home. Christmas was one of the family’s favorite holidays. Attendees can also share stories at the event. The public is also invited to bring new children’s books to be donated in the family’s honor. The Barrys had a Little Free Library outside their home to share their love of reading and of books.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling