Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Focusing on festive Faribault December 11, 2015

Looking down Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

Looking down Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK a lot like Christmas in historic downtown Faribault, despite the lack of snow.

Peanuts characters adorn the former Kay's Floral building on the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60.

A Peanuts theme plays on the windows of the former Kay’s Floral building at the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60.

Evergreen boughs adorn wrought iron fences. Snowflake lights and holiday banners hang from vintage style street lamps. White lights drape trees, creating a festive mood. And, throughout the downtown, merchants showcase Christmas displays in storefront windows. There’s something magical about a business district transformed for the holidays.

Lights adorn trees in the downtown including next to the Signature Bar & Grill, Faribault's version of "Cheers." Here you'll find, in my opinion, the best pizza in town.

Lights wrap trees in the downtown including next to the Signature Bar & Grill, Faribault’s version of “Cheers.” Here you’ll find, in my opinion, the best pizza in town.

A snippet of the festive window display at Vohs Floors.

A snippet of the festive window display at Vohs Floors, which celebrates 70 years in business in 2016. Harry Vohs started the business in his living room. The second-generation flooring store is owned by his son, Karl, and Karl’s wife, Ann.

Even the clothing on the mannequins in The Crafty Maven display is vintage.

The Crafty Maven created this window display for the vintage theme division of the holiday window decorating contest. The display highlights businesses that were open in Faribault when sisters and Maven owners, Beth Westerhouse and Dee Bjork, were growing up here. Many of those businesses are no longer open. The Crafty Maven also will close in January.

Wednesday evening, in balmy weather that is more September-like than December, I grabbed my camera in an attempt to capture some of the magic that is Faribault. Mine is a city of some 23,000 that takes pride in its downtown, a place of aged, well-kept buildings. There’s a sense of history here, a sense of community connection. Small town appeal.

Santa at Vohs Floors.

Santa inside Vohs Floors.

From sleigh rides to visits with Santa to a holiday window decorating contest and more, there’s much to see and do. Faribault Main Street and downtown merchants are working hard to welcome locals and visitors alike with “Hometown Holidays” events.

The Paradise Center for the Arts presents "Twice the Cheer: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

Paradise Community Theatre presents “Twice the Cheer: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” this weekend at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

This Saturday, for example, you can participate in the following activities:

Keepers Antiques

Keepers Antiques shows some holiday glitz in its window display.

Wedding and party glam spotlighted at Weddings by Deb.

Wedding and party glam spotlighted at Weddings by Deb.

Festively dressed dolls snug at sewing machine at B & J Sewing Center.

Festively dressed dolls snug a sewing machine at B & J Sewing Center.

If you’ve never been to Faribault, come, spend an afternoon and/or evening here in a city that’s all decked out for the holidays. Meander through our one-of-a-kind shops. Enjoy the hospitality of friendly merchants. Celebrate the magic of the season in southeastern Minnesota.

BONUS PHOTOS:

This winter wonderland in the window of Dufour Cleaners was voted the all-around favorite in the holiday window decorating contest.

This winter wonderland in the window of Dufour’s Cleaners was voted the all-around favorite in the holiday window decorating contest. Thousands of cotton balls were used to create the snow in the scene.

Studio 14 Salon & Spa placed first in the Peanuts themed division of the window decorating competition.

Studio 14 Salon & Spa placed first in the Peanuts theme division of the window decorating competition.

Here's the other side of the Peanuts display at Studio 14.

Here’s the other side of the Peanuts display at Studio 14.

Charlie Brown and crew also occupy a window space at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

Charlie Brown and crew also occupy a window space at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The PCA won for best vintage theme.

Nearby is this holiday display at Paul Swenson Portraits.

Nearby is this holiday window at Paul Swenson Portraits.

A vintage sled rests in a front window at Vohs Floors,

A vintage sled rests in a front window at Vohs Floors.

The Crafty Maven created this window display for the vintage themed division of the holiday window decorating contest. The display highlights businesses that were in Faribault when Maven sisters and owners Beth Westerhouse and Dee Bjork were growing up here.

An overview of the vintage themed window display at The Crafty Maven.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The story behind naming a winter storm Linus February 3, 2015

AS ANOTHER MAJOR WINTER STORM raged across the country this past weekend through Monday, I wondered why these storms are now being named. And why Linus?

So I turned to the internet.

Apparently The Weather Channel has taken to naming these storms in an effort to better communicate storm information in a cohesive way.

But Linus?

If you’re like me and most Americans, you automatically think Linus, as in the security blanket dragging Peanuts character created by cartoonist Charles Schulz.

You would be wrong.

The Weather Channel is referencing Greek mythology and Apollo’s son, Linus. Some sources say he was killed by dogs as a child. Other sources say Linus, a great musician, was murdered by his father.

The online Mythology Dictionary defines Linus as a “song of lamentation.” That would seem more appropriate given many a winter storm weary American is likely lamenting yet more snow to remove and cause travel difficulties.

Those official explanations aside, Linus, the Peanuts character, seems to be holding this storm as tight as a security blanket.

So I’m going to take that blanket and run with it.

Did you know that Linus is named after Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, native Linus Maurer, a friend of Charles Schulz? The two met while teaching at Art Instruction Schools, Inc. Schulz originally became connected with the school when he took correspondence courses there while a high school senior in St. Paul, Minnesota.

A statue of Linus greets visitors to the Dyckman Free Library in Sleepy Eye. Charles M. Schulz, creator of the Peanuts cartoons, based his character Linus on real-life friend Linus Maurer, a Sleepy Eye native. Maurer, a cartoonist, worked with Schulz. Ohman, who managed the former Camp Snoopy at the Mall of America, includes a photo of Linus at the Sleepy Eye library in his book.

Sleepy Eye’s statue of Linus. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Today Sleepy Eye honors Linus via a statue placed on the lawn of Dyckman Library, located along U.S. Highway 14 in this southwestern Minnesota community. I lived in Sleepy Eye for six months in 1980 but was unaware then of the Peanuts comic strip connection.

Linus Maurer, like his friend Charles Schulz, became a successful cartoonist. He also paints and is a humor and puzzle writer.

I couldn’t find much info online regarding ways Sleepy Eye promotes its Peanuts Connection. There’s a brief mention on the community’s tourism website, but nothing on the library’s website that I spotted during a quick perusal. I’m surprised.

But then I’m surprised The Weather Channel would name a winter storm Linus and expect us to think the reference is to a character from Greek mythology.

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FROM THE “A MINNESOTA WINTER DOESN’T LOOK SO BAD” Department:

My son, a student at Tufts University, enjoyed his third snow day in a week on Monday at the campus in Sommerville/Medford, Massachussett. Do colleges make up snow days?

Back “home” in Faribault, Minnesota, we got several inches of snow Saturday into Sunday, nothing compared to the 12 inches plus in the Boston area atop the two feet dropped there last week.

I expect the daughter who is flying to Boston from Wisconsin in March to visit her brother is hoping for more spring-like weather. The trip is about six weeks away. The snow will be gone by then, right?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“It was a dark and stormy night…” March 15, 2013

Snoopy's GuideJUST THINKING about the scene—my husband and kids lying belly down on the carpet reading the Sunday funnies—makes me smile.

My mother’s heart swelled with love to witness this weekly connection between father and daughters/son. Back then, I considered only that bonding aspect, that break from full-time mothering, the laughter that spilled from the living room.

I’ve never been a reader of comics, considering them a waste of time. Besides that, I’m a serious person, not inclined to reading anything remotely humorous. But now, at age 56, it is not too late to admit that I was wrong. Comics offer not only laughter, but insights into life and much more. Duh.

Thanks to Minnesota writer Sue Ready, who blogs at Ever Ready, I discovered the value in comic strips via her recommended reading of Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life, published in 2002 by Writer’s Digest Books and edited by Barnaby Conrad and Monte Schulz.

It was the title, not the comedic aspect, which grabbed my attention. I am always interested in reading about writing and this volume offers insights from noted authors like Ray Bradbury, Fannie Flagg and Danielle Steel, among about two dozen others.

Their advice, though, isn’t presented in a straight-forward manner. Rather, the selected writers are prompted by cartoonist Charles M. Schulz’s Snoopy strips, specifically featuring Snoopy the writer at his doghouse rooftop typewriter.

Why had I forgotten that Snoopy was a writer? Perhaps because I have not read all that many Peanuts cartoons.

Snoopy faces the sometime issues of writer’s bloc, criticism (from the ever present loud-mouthed Lucy), rejection and more. But the problems somehow seem funny when faced by Snoopy and not me.

The canine is stuck on beginning his stories with “It was a dark and stormy night,” or a slightly revised version. How often do we writers also become stuck, writing in the same way or, even worse, writing how we think we should write?

Author Fannie Flagg advises:

The joy about writing is that as long as you write from your heart, a thousand English degrees cannot compete with that.

How true. Readers can sense when you write from your heart.

I found Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life packed with pieces of useful advice, some which I already knew, some not. Here are some paraphrased gems I plucked from the book:

  • Too much time on the typewriter (translate computer) can cause double vision. (Correct.)
  • Avoid boring descriptions and heavy explanations.
  • Understand your subject and your market.
  • Surprise is an important element of humor (and writing in general, might I add).
  • Stop seeking approval and advice and trust your instincts.
  • “Try to leave out the parts that readers skip” (direct quote that I could not paraphrase).
  • Plot develops from character, a point emphasized by more than one writer.
  • Just write. Every day.

Now, one of my favorite lines comes from Monte Schulz, the son of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz. Monte surmises that writers write “for the music of beautiful language.” I love that phrase because I totally get what he means. As a writer, and especially as a poet, my heart rejoices when I find the exact word or line which makes my poem sing. It is a glorious moment.

Then, on the second to last page of Snoopy’s Guide, writer J.F. Freedman throws in that element of surprise, at least for me, when he writes:

 Great comic strips…are a fine introduction into literature, and are damn good writing in and of themselves…

And after reading (in this book) more than 180 “Snoopy at the typewriter” comic strips, likely more comics than I’ve read in my life, I’d agree with Freedman. Damn good writing, indeed.

WHAT WRITING TIPS can you offer? Let’s hear them.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling