Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Focus on Minnesota Nice (Enough) October 19, 2020

Stickers span generations. Here my granddaughter, then two, looks at her Poppy stickers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2018.

WHEN MY GIRLS, now in their early 30s, were growing up, sticker books were all the rage. They filled mini books with stickers. Peel stickers from sheets of glossy paper and adhere them to blank pages. Horses. Kitties. And much more. Cute and bold Lisa Frank designs mostly in a vivid rainbow of hues, strong on pinks and purples.

Park and other stickers grace the window of a 1959 Edsel Village Wagon at a Faribault Car Cruise Night, proving that even adults value stickers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2016.

My daughters loved paging through their sticker books. Stickers still hold universal appeal. For all ages. (The stickers of my era were lick-and-stick to scenes printed on pages of a sticker book.)

That segues to Minnesota Nice Enough, a Nisswa-based company that crafts weatherproof vinyl stickers that are not your kids’ mass-produced outsourced stickers. These are promoted as “made by real people who care about quality, art, beer, bicycles & dogs.” Now that appeals to me.

Babe the Blue Ox sculpture in Nisswa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2017.

I first learned about this company during a September visit to Nisswa, a small tourist town located in Minnesota’s central lakes region. Randy and I were in the area, staying at a family member’s guest lake cabin. One day, we ventured into nearby Nisswa to check out the many shops that define this town. Those businesses include Zaiser’s Gift Shop, billing itself as “serving the Nisswa lakes area since 1947 with the most kick-ass products this side of the Milky Way!”

Small grassroots shops line downtown Nisswa.

Already I like this business. Humor and creativity rate high with me. And Biff Ulm, MN Nice Enough creative head who also owns the family retail boutique, obviously possesses both. One need only scroll through the sticker offerings (also sold on etsy) to confirm that. (The business also sells mugs.)

Paul Bunyan, carved into a totem pole at the Totem Pole shop in Nisswa.

Many stickers feature a decidedly northwoods Minnesota theme with buffalo plaid, Paul Bunyan, moose, pines, loons, canoes… Others highlight Minnesotans’ idiosyncrasies like calling pop “pop,” not soda. And calling hotdish “hotdish,” not casserole. And, as promised, beer gets some love in several stickers, including Minnesota and Wisconsin-shaped beer mugs. Yes, Wisconsin also gets lots of love from Minnesota Nice Enough. And, yes, you can purchase a Minnesota Nice Enough sticker, too.

The sticker that initially grabbed my attention.

But it was the oversized ALL WELCOME sticker in the front window of Zaiser’s that first grabbed my attention and led me to learn more about Minnesota Nice Enough (which also features products for adult, not kids’, eyes). That spotlight sticker proclaims that all are welcome. All cultures, beliefs, colors, sizes, ages and identities. And at a time when our nation is so divided, so filled with animosity toward one another, I appreciate this message. It gives me hope, uplifts and encourages me. Thank you, Minnesota Nice Enough.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cheers to the Norwegians of Nisswa October 16, 2020

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This sign marks the way to homes along Norway Lane, Nisswa, Minnesota.

I DON’T RECALL the precise wording of the signs. But the homemade notices posted in strategic high traffic areas in Nisswa proved catchy enough that Randy and I simply had to find the garage sale.

Unfamiliar with this central Minnesota community (we were staying at a nearby lake cabin), we relied on the signage (not GPS) to reach our destination along Norway Lane.

The official street signs.

Ah, yes, we Minnesotans are proud of our heritages and this street name proved that. I quickly spotted a second ethnic-themed sign for an intersecting street. Oslo Way.

We continued a short distance down Norway Lane until a handwritten sign on a mailbox alerted us to the garage sale location:

The humorous sign telling us we’d reached the garage sale.

Although there was no free beer (maybe because it was still early afternoon and not yet happy hour on this Friday), I found a snowsuit and light jacket for our 21-month-old grandson. I regret not purchasing the toy work bench playset for $10. My daughter later told me I should have bought it. Sigh.

Lesson learned. Trust your gut if you think you should buy something for your grandchild at a garage sale. If the parents don’t want it, they can always give it away.

And I learned one more thing. At least one person living along Norway Lane defies the stereotypical definition of Norwegians as reserved and stoic. Cheers!

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Nisswa Lake Park delivers, with a bonus surprise September 30, 2020

Signage directs trail users to Nisswa, via the tunnel.

 

The city’s newest park is all about nature; featuring walking paths, water garden, pavilion, picnic tables, benches and garbage cans, along with breathtaking views of Nisswa Lake.

 

Randy finishes his picnic lunch.

 

That description of Nisswa Lake Park in a printed travel guide drew my interest as I researched for a recent lake cabin get-away to the central Minnesota lakes region. Randy and I planned a day trip into the small tourist town of Nisswa. That included a picnic lunch since we are not comfortable dining out at a restaurant, even if outdoors. The community’s newest park seemed an ideal place, especially with those noted garbage cans. That notation caused us to laugh. But, hey, trash cans are vital if you’re dining outdoors in a park.

 

Tunnel graffiti with an encouraging message.

 

A simple, but powerful, word especially during these trying times in our nation.

 

Another timely message on the tunnel wall.

 

After some time browsing the many shops, we stopped at the local tourism office for directions to the lakeside park. We drove to the south end of town, parked the van and headed down flights of stairs toward a tunnel leading into Nisswa Lake Park. As we walked through the short tunnel under busy Minnesota State Highway 371, I noted the graffiti already written on the walls.

 

The tunnel to the park and trails passes under the highway. On the other side, you can see the stairway leading up to downtown Nisswa. This photo was taken from the park side.

 

And then we emerged on the other side, wondering exactly which direction to head with multiple trail options. We chose what seemed the most obvious route and soon found ourselves in a clearing, surrounded by woods.

 

This pavilion sits atop a hill, complete with the advertised garbage cans.

 

We also found the promised picnic tables, benches, pavilion and garbage cans. Along with porta potties.

 

The public dock at Nisswa Lake Park.

 

After lunch, we followed a trail leading to the public landing and dock along Nisswa Lake.

 

Leaves were already turning color during our visit nearly two weeks ago.

 

A simple, but powerful, word imprinted on the back of a bench.

 

The last of summer’s flowers, black-eyed susans, linger.

 

If there was a water garden, I missed it. But I didn’t miss the leaves, messages, flowers.

 

I found this kindness rock lying on the ground in Nisswa Lake Park.

 

The flip side of the kindness rock.

 

And I didn’t miss the painted heart-shaped stone with the printed message: Have a great Day. Whenever I discover such an unexpected “Kindness Rock,” as these are technically termed, I feel uplifted. Joyful. And, most of all, thankful for those creative and caring people who paint and print and place these inspirational gems in public places.

 

A plaque atop a picnic table inside the pavilion expresses gratitude.

 

So while the garbage can rated important, and the lake view proved lovely and the bathrooms necessary, it was this single small item which meant the most to me upon my first visit to Nisswa’s newest park.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“It’s in your hands” September 25, 2020

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I photographed this sign on the door of a business in Crosby, where shops I visited followed through on masking requirements.

 

Lake COUNTRY Cares.

That sub message underscores the main point to mask up while patronizing businesses in central Minnesota’s lakes region. So those businesses can stay open.

I appreciate the message and the buffalo plaid Paul Bunyan themed art iconic to this region. The serious, yet visually humorous, sign, duplicated and posted on many shops, reminds us all that we can help stop the spread of COVID-19 by masking up.

If only every business posting that sign or a similar “masks are required” sign would follow the rules. Words are meaningless when actions do not match. And I found that to be the case in some (more than I expected) shops in Nisswa and Crosslake during a recent stay at a family lake cabin in the area.

My frustration level grew to the point that, if I walked into a shop where the owner/employee was not masked or even one customer was not masked (wearing a mask below one’s nose or around one’s neck or wearing only a partial plastic shield is not “wearing a mask”), I walked out. Right out the door. This failure to mask up shows no care. No care for people. No care for keeping businesses open.

 

I love this message and the welcoming and caring shopkeeper with whom I spoke.

 

In all fairness, I walked into plenty of shops where the owners clearly care. Masks were available to customers. Hand sanitizer or wipes were front and center with notices to use upon entering the business. I especially appreciated the cleaning station and creative signage in a Crosslake framing and gift shop that stated: IT’S IN YOUR HANDS.

Yes, it is. It’s up to each of us to do our part to keep each other safe. This is about health and science and respect and compassion for one another. Not about politics and whatever other arguments can be tossed into the mix.

This failure to follow our state mask mandate is not unique to the central Minnesota lakes region, although, from my observations during my visit, it seems more problematic there. Here in the Faribault area I still see occasional half-maskers and no-maskers. Without divulging specifics, I will also add that not all employers are providing a safe work environment for employees or customers by their failure to comply with Minnesota’s mask mandate and other health recommendations.

So, yeah, I’m frustrated. Even angry at times. I recognize that even the best preventative measures can still fail, but we have to try.

 

A sign posted in Mission Park south of Crosslake from an event canceled earlier this year due to COVID-19.

 

Just like many of you, I’m weary of COVID-19 and the restrictions it has placed on my life. But I keep reminding myself that I, we, can get through this, if only we do our part. Mask up. Social distance. Keep our hands clean. Avoid crowds and sizeable gatherings. Limit our circle. Make smart/good decisions that protect ourselves and others. Stay home when we’re sick. Get tested for COVID-19 if symptoms suggest that. It’s not that difficult. Really.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The story of Babe the Blue Ox in Nisswa November 13, 2017

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WHAT DEFINES NISSWA?

 

 

Ten years ago, Nisswa Elementary School students created a work of art which partially answers that question in an unlikely place—on a Babe the Blue Ox statue.

 

 

Situated on a corner of Main Street, the artwork showcases most anything a visitor, like me, would want to know about this northwoods Minnesota community.

 

 

From the story behind the town’s name to the availability of pizza and ice cream treats to the turtle races, these kids highlight the best of Nisswa on Paul Bunyan’s sidekick.

 

 

They appreciate their parks and bookstore, Pioneer Village, the Halloween parade and, yes, the local library, too.

 

 

Well done, former kids of Nisswa.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Up North in Nisswa November 9, 2017

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Babe the Blue Ox of Paul Bunyan Legend stand on the corner by the tourism office along Nisswa’s Main Street.

 

ON THE THURSDAY I toured Nisswa in mid-September, the turtle race track stood empty, Babe the Blue Ox stood tall and this northern Minnesota community buzzed with visitors.

 

 

Set in the heart of lake country, this town of some 2,000 draws folks from nearby cabins, resorts and hotels to meander through the many shops that line several blocks of a route once followed by Native Americans traveling northward through these parts from southern Minnesota.

 

Babe the Blue Ox bears the history of Nisswa’s name on its flank.

 

The name Nisswa comes from the Ojibwe word nessawae meaning “in the middle” or “three.” Nisswa sits in the middle of three lakes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On this day, I didn’t learn much about local history. But I did learn that these northerners rate as a friendly bunch. In business after business, shopkeepers greeted Randy and me with friendly smiles and welcoming attitudes. With the exception of signs prohibiting photos of merchandise (much of it original art) prevalent throughout Nisswa, I felt more than welcome.

 

 

A shopkeeper at The Fun Sisters Up North Boutique even convinced me to try on leggings and an appropriate bum-covering top. Inside my mind, I protested. But she was just so darned nice that I agreed. I’ll admit that I looked better than I thought in leggings. But I still felt like I was playing dress-up in fashionable attire totally foreign to me. She didn’t make the sale. But the clerk sold me on the genuine friendliness of Nisswa.

 

Signature northwoods birch logs propped outside a business.

 

I dropped my money in several other businesses, picking up Minnesota-themed gifts for friends and my granddaughter.

 

 

 

Vintage Native American art outside a shop tips visitors off to this region’s history.

 

 

The legend of Paul Bunyan, here interpreted in a woodcarving, runs strong in the Minnesota northwoods.

 

Nisswa presents a definitively northwoods feel with more than one Babe the Blue Ox and Paul Bunyan and plenty of buffalo plaid and loon art. Randy and I spent hours here ducking in and out of shops. And that says a lot for the attraction of Nisswa to someone like me who generally dislikes shopping. The original arts and crafts and merchandise with a Minnesota bent kept me interested.

 

 

 

Painted turtles mark businesses.

 

Although we didn’t patronize a Nisswa eatery, there are plenty of options for meals, treats and brew.

 

Had we arrived in Nisswa at 1 p.m. on a Wednesday weeks earlier, we would also have witnessed the weekly summertime turtle races. Reminders of that tourist draw are evident in the turtle race track and in turtles painted onto sidewalks in front of businesses. I applaud communities like this that hatch and then latch onto an idea that identifies and sets them apart from other towns. For Nisswa, it’s turtle races and friendly folks in quaint northwoods shops.

TELL ME: Have you been to Nisswa? What is your impression of this small Minnesota town?

Please check back for a closer look at the iconic Babe the Blue Ox statue along Main Street.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling