Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating supper clubs, including Jerry’s in Owatonna December 4, 2020

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The once popular Jerry’s Supper Club, shuttered in downtown Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

SUPPER CLUBS. What visual comes to mind when you read those words?

I picture a dark, probably paneled, restaurant with red carpet. Low lights. Candles flickering on tables draped with heavy tablecloths. Fine cutlery and water goblets. Hefty china.

Menu printed on fine paper and placed inside a thick black leather folder. Salad and steak and mammoth baked potatoes. Or shrimp. Maybe a whiskey sour or a Tom Collins.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

I am of the age that I still remember the hey day of supper clubs. Like the Cat N’ Fiddle in rural New Ulm, where my parents occasionally dined. I recall my mom bringing home packages of crackers lifted from baskets and stuffed into her purse. A rare treat for us kids. And I remember my dad talking about the tasty frog legs he ordered at a supper club in Granite Falls. I always wondered how anyone could eat frog legs. But Dad could enjoy steak—the supper club feature food—any time given he raised beef cattle.

As a teen, I gathered with my best friends at Club 59 in Marshall to celebrate our senior year of high school in 1974. Photos from that day show the five of us bundled in winter coats, wide smiles gracing our youthful faces. Oh, the memories.

Years later, after college and launching my career as a newspaper reporter and then eventually marrying and moving to Faribault, I rediscovered supper clubs. I dined a few times at The Lavender Inn and The Evergreen Knoll. Both closed years ago, as dining preferences changed, the economy tanked and the food scene evolved.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

In Owatonna, a 20-minute drive to the south along Interstate 35, Jerry’s Supper Club closed in 2009. An article published in the Owatonna People’s Press called Jerry’s, opened in 1960, “an Owatonna institution.” I expect people gathered here for business meetings, special occasions or simply supper (not dinner) out at a fancy restaurant on a Saturday night. Perhaps minus frog legs on the menu.

Signage and hours still remain on the door, long after Jerry’s closed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

Soon the building which housed this long-time popular supper club, this place of so many memories, will be gone, replaced by a Marriott Courtyard hotel. Before that happens, I hope someone—perhaps the Steele County Historical Society—salvages tangible pieces of Jerry’s. Like the exterior signage. And, if any restaurant-related memorabilia/furniture/whatever remains inside, that, too.

The building housing Jerry’s Supper Club has architecturally beautiful details. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

I photographed Jerry’s in May while walking around downtown Owatonna. The alterations to the exterior of the building with the additions and covered windows and everything painted white are aesthetically unappealing. I don’t know when the changes were made to this once beautiful brick building. But I recognize it was once “a thing” to modernize. I am thankful that mindset has returned to an appreciation for historic structures.

The dated term, “lounge,” remains on the exterior of Jerry’s Supper Club. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

And so progress happens. A much-desired hotel is coming to downtown Owatonna. That will include an in-house restaurant in the former Jerry’s Supper Club space, according to the People’s Press. Nothing can replace Jerry’s. While some supper clubs still exist, especially in Wisconsin, they seem mostly a thing of the past. A place of paneled walls, red carpet and low light. And memories.

TELL ME: Do you have memories of Jerry’s Supper Club? Or of any supper club? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From southern Minnesota: Hardy Harley biker November 30, 2020

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WITH TEMPERATURES IN THE LOW 50s here in southern Minnesota on Saturday, the unseasonably warm weather presented another opportunity for some bikers to hit the road before winter settles in for good.

This die-hard Harley rider passed us while we traveled northbound along Interstate 35 in Owatonna early Saturday afternoon.

The biker lowered his left hand here, presumably to warm his hand.

He looked cold to me with his head hunched into his leather-clad shoulders while gripping the handlebars of his windshield-less bike. With his gloved hands in that high position, no blood flowed warmth to his fingers.

Exiting Interstate 35 in Owatonna.

Randy guessed the windchill on that bike to be in the mid-20s based on the air temp and highway speed of 70 mph. Brrr. Now that’s cold, even for a hardy Minnesota Harley rider.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note: I took these photos while a passenger in our vehicle.

 

From Owatonna: The legend of a princess & healing waters November 5, 2020

Note: The following post has been in my “drafts” since May. Time to publish this, as it appropriately themes to healing.

 

The statue of Princess Owatonna in Mineral Springs Park dates to the early 1930s.

 

LEGEND GOES THAT PRINCESS OWATONNA experienced restored health by drinking the curing waters of Minnewauan.

 

Princess Owatonna and her story, a park focal point.

 

The story of the princess, and a statue of her, center Mineral Springs Park in Owatonna, a place defined by water. Springs. Maple Creek. And a man-made waterfall.

 

Randy climbs a steep stairway to the top of a wooded hillside.

 

When we visited in mid May, apple blossoms were budding and blooming.

 

It was such a lovely May day to be out and about.

 

On a Friday afternoon in May, Randy and I stopped by the park to take in the art, the legend, the beauty of the water and apple blossoms, and simply nature.

 

Maple Creek, spanned by several bridges in the park.

 

Water streams from a pipe along the river bank.

 

Gracing Mineral Springs Park, a beautiful man-made waterfall constructed in the early 1970s.

 

During a previous visit, I drank cold spring water from a fountain. But on this day, no water bubbled up. Instead, water streamed from a nearby pipe, flowed in the creek and cascaded down the waterfall.

 

More history on a monument in Mineral Springs Park.

 

The park on this weather-perfect afternoon proved busy. But not too busy that we felt uncomfortable or crowed. Everyone respected everyone and social-distanced.

 

Another view of Maple Creek, which winds through Mineral Springs Park.

 

In 1875, Owatonna Mineral Springs Company formed with the spring water served for many years on railroad dining cars, according to the City of Owatonna website. One can only imagine the refreshing taste of that water sourced from this place in southern Minnesota, this place where Princess Owatonna, daughter of Chief Wabena, once found healing. So the legend goes…

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BONUS FINDS:

 

 

 

 

While walking around Mineral Springs Park, we found these messages on stones and a shell left in the park.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

June bride at the Village of Yesteryear June 26, 2020

A sign marks the Village of Yesteryear, a sprawling collection of historic buildings in Owatonna.

 

WHILE WALKING TOWARD THE HISTORIC CHURCH, I first saw her. The woman dressed in black. With a camera. Although I wondered at her formal attire, I didn’t consider that she might be someone other than a photographer interested in the Village of Yesteryear.

 

The District 14 school moved here in 1963.

 

I took this photo of the old school before the bride and her bridesmaids arrived.

 

From a distance, I photographed the photographer at work.

 

But soon enough, when I saw a bride and her attendants rounding the back of the 1856 District No. 14 schoolhouse, the photographer’s purpose became clear.

 

Trees frame the steeple of the Saco Church.

 

By that time, I’d reached St. Wenceslaus Church of Moravia, a church built in 1891 and moved here, to the grounds of the Steele County Historical Society in Owatonna, in 1962.

 

While I’ve previously been inside this historic church, it was locked on Saturday.

 

I pondered for a moment whether a wedding was planned here, but saw nothing to indicate that. So I took a few photos of the aged church, which was locked, just like all the other buildings in this historic village on this late Saturday afternoon. And while I did that, I kept my eye on the nearby photo session.

For one, I didn’t want to stray into the path of the professional photographer. I’ve been in her shoes and understand the frustration of dealing with wedding guests who get in the way and want to take photos. That presents challenges in time and management and more.

 

I stood to the side and photographed the bride and her attendants.

 

But, as I neared the group of women while en route to the parking lot, I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Is it okay if I take your picture? I’m a blogger.” The bride was quick to approve and the photographer invited me to stand next to her. I declined. “I don’t have my mask,” I explained. She didn’t have her face mask either.

 

From the back of the church, the bride and her party are visible from afar.

 

That is the reality of living during a global pandemic. As excited as I was to happen upon this most common of summer scenes—an outdoors bridal photo session—I still remembered COVID-19. Minutes earlier I’d congratulated the bride on her wedding day, specifically commenting on the challenges of marrying in a pandemic.

 

You can see and feel the love in this photo.

 

But, as I framed a few photos, my thoughts shifted back to the moment, to the celebration, to the joy. Here were four beautiful young women, stunning in their sparkly dresses, arms wrapped around one another, luscious bouquets of peonies clutched in their hands, posing for portraits against an historic backdrop.

In that moment I witnessed life. Ordinary and celebratory. Life full and joyous. Life as lovely as a June bride.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memory in flight January 23, 2020

The fighter jet sculpture located at The Owatonna Degner Regional Airport. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

 

SOME MEMORIES REMAIN, decades after the event, forever seared into our minds. But often they stay in the subconscious, surfacing only when triggered by something heard, seen, smelled, tasted, thought.

I hadn’t thought in a long time about the plane. Until I researched the story behind an airplane sculpture at The Owatonna Degner Regional Airport. I photographed the trio of T-38 Talon Thunderbirds while passing by on Interstate 35 as day broke on a recent Sunday morning.

My mind didn’t shift then to the afternoon decades ago when a fighter jet roared over my childhood farm outside Vesta in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota. Rather, my thoughts focused on my mom. We were en route to visit her at a care center in Belview.

But now, weeks later, I sorted through photos taken on that 2.5-hour drive and remembered a summer afternoon in the 1960s. I was outside when the fighter jet flew low and fast over the farmyard, causing me to dive under the B Farmall tractor and the cattle to escape their fence. The sight and sound of that plane terrified me. We seldom saw planes, mostly just the trails of invisible or barely visible slivers of silver jets.

To this day, I don’t know from whence that mystery plane came or why the pilot chose to fly at such a low altitude. I can only speculate that he was on a training mission. And why not conduct that in a sparsely-populated area? Never mind the people or livestock.

That experience resurfaced as I sought out info about the three fighter jets artfully positioned at the Owatonna airport. Initially, they stood outside nearby Heritage Halls Museum, now closed. Museum founder and local businessman and pilot, R.W. “Buzz” Kaplan, led efforts to bring the retired U.S. Air Force jets to the area. Eventually the planes would land permanently at the airport, highly-visible to those traveling along the interstate.

Kaplan, on June 26, 2002, died at this very airport after the plane he was piloting, a replica WW I JN-4D “Jenny” biplane, crashed shortly after take-off. This airport has been the site of several fatal crashes, including one in 2008 which claimed eight lives. I hadn’t thought about that crash either, one of the worst in Minnesota, in a long time.

It’s interesting how the split-second decision to photograph a sculpture of three fighter jets along an interstate can trigger-roll into more than simply an image.

Life is that way. Memories, rising in unexpected moments, connecting to today.

TELL ME: Do you have a long ago memory that sometimes surfaces? I’d like to hear your stories and why that memory remains and others don’t.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Crochet in Translation”: the art of Malia Wiley July 16, 2019

Malia Wiley’s “Swine in an Afghan.” Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

WE SHARE THE COMMONALITIES of attending the same Christian college, Bethany Lutheran in Mankato, and of being creatives.

 

Malia Wiley with her oil painting, “Stag Luxuriously Robed in Crochet.” Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

I write and photograph. She paints and crochets. She is Malia Wiley, a young southern Minnesota artist who specializes in painting primarily pet portraits. But Malia also crochets and has now combined her two creative passions into an artistic endeavor, Crochet in Translation.

 

Flying geese in crochet and painting by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

“Cozy Squirrel” portrait up close by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Love the vivid colors in this rooster portrait by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

The result is a signature art form unlike any I’ve seen. Novel. Unique. Memorable. And truly creative with the colors and textures of crocheted afghans inspiring, weaving into and enhancing Malia’s portraits of animals.

 

Malia Wiley, left, chats with guests at her recent Owatonna Arts Center Crochet in Translation gallery opening. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Recently I attended an opening reception at the Owatonna Arts Center honoring Malia and celebrating her work as an artist. A gallery exhibit of her art continues there until July 28.

 

“Hens on Crochet” by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

I chatted briefly with this talented artist and learned that her grandma taught her to crochet. Her “Hens on Crochet” incorporates an afghan crocheted by her grandmother and exhibited with the painting.

 

Malia Wiley crafted this jewel-toned afghan, the inspiration for a peacock painting. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

“Bundled Sheep” by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Afghans from Malia Wiley’s collection stacked in a corner of the gallery. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Malia also crafted a few of the showcased afghans. But most were found—at thrift stores and garage sales. Crocheting an afghan, Malia says, takes considerably more time than painting an animal portrait. I don’t doubt that when you look at the intricate patterns of crocheted afghans.

 

In addition to originals, Malia Wiley sells prints of her animal portraits. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

That Malia makes her living as an artist delights me. With this Lake Crystal artist’s level of talent and signature style, it’s easy to see how she has become a successful professional artist. On a larger and more public scale, Malia’s work is featured on a mural she painted for the ag-themed Grow-It Gallery at the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota in Mankato, a museum on my to-see list.

 

“Preparing the Den” by Malia Wiley. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

I love when young people, anyone really, follow their passions and find joy in the talents with which they’ve been blessed. We are all the richer for the creatives who enrich our lives through their art.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Paintings were photographed with Malia’s permission.

 

WW I from a Steele County, Minnesota, personal perspective April 16, 2019

 

YOU CAN SPEND considerable time reading all of the information included in a World War I exhibit at the Steele Country History Center in Owatonna. But I am more a Cliffs Notes reader when it comes to museum-based history. I scan to gain a general overall understanding and then choose to focus more on content that interests me most.

 

 

 

“Fight the foe with the hoe.”

 

The “Over Here, Over There: The Great War” exhibit presents Steele County’s role in WW I, both on the battlefield and at home. It’s an incredible research project. Well done. Detailed and personalized. I’ve come to expect such historical accuracy and professionalism in homegrown exhibits at this southern Minnesota museum.

 

 

As I ducked into military and medical tents, listened to the sounds of machine gun fire,

 

 

 

 

took in the wall of nearly 1,100 soldiers’ names,

 

 

admired military medals,

 

 

pulled copies of soldiers’ letters from mailboxes,

 

 

observed blacklisted books of German poetry,

 

 

considered the sacrifices of Wheatless Wednesdays and Heatless Mondays, I contemplated how this war affected every aspect of life. Not just for those military personnel in battle, but for the everyday American.

 

 

And when I read the section on immigration, I contemplated how little has changed. How the issues of yesterday—back then the hatred of Germans—today has only a new color, a new ethnicity. I read: Mass immigration created social tensions. Many native-born citizens demanded assimilation and wanted less immigration.

I don’t intend for this post to spark intense discussion on immigration issues. But the immigration section of this exhibit certainly resonated with me. I am of German heritage. If my grandparents were still living, I would question them about issues they faced because of their ethnicity.

It saddens me to think how, still today, social tensions and demands for assimilation and hostility toward immigrants remain. Strong. Often hateful. As if we didn’t all come from immigrants. As if we aren’t all human beings worthy of love and respect and a place to call home.

 

 

 

All of that aside, I’d encourage you to tour “Over Here, Over There: The Great War.” There is much to be culled from this exhibit whether you read every single word or browse through the information. In history we learn. If only we’d retain those lessons so history does not repeat itself.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Found poetry April 15, 2019

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A POET FRIEND COLLECTS found poetry.

Larry Gavin’s most recent found poem, read recently at a Cannon Valley Poets Poetry Reading at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault, caused the audience to burst into laughter. He read a short “looking for work poem” collected from a public space. The poster sought babysitting jobs, but stated she’d rather pick rock. Alright then. A potential babysitter who prefers rocks to children is unlikely to get hired by any parent.

Like Larry, I find publicly posted messages interesting and often humorous. Unlike Larry, I’d never considered those notes as poetry. But I understand why he views them as such.

Inspired by my poet friend, I’ve upped my public message board reading, something I’ve done only irregularly in the past. I was quickly rewarded with a unique note tacked onto a bulletin board at the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Owatonna.

 

 

I snapped a photo with my smartphone and then edited out the phone number.

The note inspired me to write this poem:

Missing

She rocks—the cool blonde
with hair sculpted in a do,
stripe ribboned across locks,
eyes shaded behind sunglasses
like Jackie O.
Call if you see her.
She’s missing.
Last seen at the Salvation Army Thrift Store.

 

TELL ME: Do you read publicly posted messages like Larry and me? If yes, please share an interesting/humorous/bizarre one you’ve spotted.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Owatonna: Toys exhibit highlights 50 years of child’s play April 5, 2019

Turtle power displayed.

 

CAN YOU NAME all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

I bet my daughters can. These fictional teenage cartoon characters are named after Italian artists of the Renaissance. And they were vastly popular when my girls were growing up in the late 1980s and 1990s.

 

 

Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael. The turtles are among toys featured in a “Toys & Play, 1970 to Today” exhibit at the Steele Country History Center in Owatonna. This museum ranks as one of my favorite regional history centers. Why? Because of the home-grown changing exhibits, the traveling exhibits and the adjoining Village of Yesteryear. Staff and volunteers clearly work hard to create engaging exhibits with a local connection.

 

 

 

Go ahead, play.

 

Kids are welcome to play with some of the exhibit toys, including these farm-themed wood cut-outs.

 

From videos to interactive activities to creative displays and more, visitors experience history. I am so thankful for this shift from “look and don’t touch” to hands-on that now imprints most history centers. History, to be remembered, must be experienced through the senses. I find myself bored at museums that revolve around simply walking past glass-encased historical artifacts. I need engagement to pull me in.

 

All three of my kids, including the son, owned one Cabbage Patch doll.

 

Front and center in the exhibit, fabric drapes over a cardboard box to create a fort.

 

 

Without kids in tow, though, I mostly observed this exhibit, flashing back to sweet memories of my daughters cradling their Cabbage Patch dolls, clasping tiny Polly Pockets in their little hands, sliding Viewmaster reels into place, creating art with a Lite-Brite, building forts from blankets draped over card tables and much more.

 

In a mock-up child’s bedroom, visitors are invited to play Nintendo.

 

Our family played lots of board games. Those are part of the Owatonna exhibit, but are a don’t touch part of the exhibit.

 

A table full of pogs, ready for playing.

 

I limited their screen time. They played together. Indoors and outdoors. And they used their imaginations.

 

 

 

I was happy to see a tractor displayed in a case full of toys.

 

The exhibit extends beyond a collection of popular toys. It also addresses the value of play as a learning tool, consumerism, issues related to technologically-based toys… There’s much to contemplate as I consider how toys have changed in the decades since I was a kid galloping around the farmyard on my stick horse crafted from a sock and an old broom handle.

 

 

But one thing remains unchanged—that is a kid’s desire for whatever is the hottest, newest toy. I remember flipping through the pages of the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog, aka the Wish Book, to tag the toys I knew I’d never get. A pogo stick sticks in my memory. I could dream all I wanted while repeatedly turning those pages. But in reality my parents had only minimal money and not enough to buy those coveted toys.

 

Through the museum window I saw this playground, such a fitting visual for the info posted inside the mock child’s bedroom.

 

Looking back now, I am thankful for that lack of material possessions as a child. Instead, the vast outdoors of rural Minnesota provided all I needed for imaginative play with my siblings. There were no battery operated toys, which I refuse to buy even today for my grandchildren.

 

 

 

 

Parenting children today, I think, proves more challenging than that of previous generations, even of raising my own kids. Screen time robs too many kids of creative play, of family time, of spending time outdoors. I realize it’s a much different world. And I can lament all I want about the changes. But that does no good. The bottom line is that we can make choices for our children. We decide whether to cave to whining. We decide which toys to buy. We decide on screen time. We decide on the importance of outdoor play. We have the ability to encourage healthy, engaging and creative play.

 

My girls’ My Little Ponies came from garage sales, as did many of their toys.

 

PLEASE SHARE your thoughts on toys, on child’s play, on your favorite childhood toy, on parental choices, whatever you feel inclined to say about kids and toys and, yes, parents, too.

 

FYI: The Steele County Historical Society museum is open Tuesdays – Saturdays. The toy exhibit remains open into the fall. Call to confirm dates.

RELATED: Click here to read about the reasons behind the closing of Creative Kidstuff, a group of home-grown toy stores in the Twin Cities.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Way too cold here in the Bold North January 25, 2019

The FOX 9 News weather report Thursday morning on my TV.

 

A YEAR AGO, PROMOTERS tagged Minnesota as the Bold North while marketing the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis. They wanted locals and visitors to embrace the cold and snow. View both as positives, see Minnesota as a place that celebrates winter.

Today I doubt many of us Minnesotans feel like celebrating winter. It’s just too darn cold. An Arctic blast, bone-chilling cold front, whatever phrase you want to throw out there for absurdly cold temperatures, has parked itself here in the Bold North.

 

No relief in sight…

 

With 30 – 40 mph winds in the western region of Minnesota and frigid air temps, feels-like temps dipped into the minus 30-degree range on Thursday. Some parts of our state will experience minus 50-degree windchills through noon today. Forecasters predict the cold snap will continue into next week.

 

Source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

What does that mean in a state which brags an image of ruggedness and toughness in the words Bold North? It means canceled events. Like the St. Paul Winter Carnival parade, canceled Thursday evening due to the bitter cold. And cancellation of activities at the Vulcan Snow Park, also part of the St. Paul carnival. Ironic, isn’t it, that winter cancels winter? It happened here in Faribault in December, too, with a major winter storm postponing the Winterfest parade. But, hey, we have the annual Faribault Flannel Formal coming up on February 9.

 

 

In the meantime, we must survive these days so brutally cold that venturing outdoors requires layers of clothing—which probably include flannel. Plus stocking caps snugged on our heads, boots strapped on our feet, warm winter coats bundled around our bodies and mittens/choppers clamped on our hands. This cold is serious stuff. Frostbite serious. Exposed skin can potentially freeze in minutes. Remember that, smart hat-less teens walking to school.

And, yes, the brutal cold has closed schools and delayed start times.

But it isn’t stopping Owatonna from going on with its Bold & Cold Winter Festival running through this weekend. Snow sculpting, sledding, ice fishing, iceskating, ice bocce ball and more are slated for the celebration. We’ve got the cold. Let’s hope everyone also owns bold.

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Wabasso Public School. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

AT MY ALMA MATER, illness, not frigid temps, closed schools on Thursday and again today. Some 20 percent of the student population (74 students) were absent from class on Wednesday, according to a Facebook video posted by the superintendent of Wabasso Public Schools. Staff, too. Yes, this is a small rural district in southwestern Minnesota.

You would think no virus could survive in this current cold. But this is exactly when illnesses spread, when cold keeps us indoors, close to one another, here in the Bold North.

HOW DO YOU, or how would you, handle such Bold North frigid winter weather?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling