Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Launching the Boomerang Bags movement in Faribault May 1, 2018

 

A May Day basket I received from a young family several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MAY DAY BRINGS thoughts of baskets hung on doorknobs or set on doorsteps. A gift to a friend, a family member, a neighbor. A little love on the first day of May.

 

 

Today in Faribault, the focus is not on baskets, but on bags. Cloth bags crafted from recycled materials to replace plastic bags. It’s part of the worldwide Boomerang Bags movement being launched locally at Buckham Memorial Library.

 

 

I read about this effort recently in the Faribault paper, then saw samples of the cloth bags at the library along with a notice about an informational meeting slated for 10:30 a.m. today in the library’s third floor Makerspace.

 

 

I like the concept of choosing cloth over plastic, of making these bags and then passing them along to people in the community. The boomerang effect.

All of this I considered while I checked out books and magazines at the library on Saturday, then waited while the front desk aide slipped my reading materials into a Southeastern Libraries Cooperating bag. Made of plastic.

TELL ME: What are your thoughts on the Boomerang Bags project? Have you heard of it? Do you already use cloth bags when shopping, etc.?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Going green in Luverne at ReBorn October 3, 2014

That's ReBorn, in the right corner of the city-owned theatre building at 102 E. Main Street.

That’s ReBorn, photographed in July 2013, in the right corner of the city-owned theatre building at 102 E. Main Street. ReBorn has since relocated to 113 E. Main Street.

TO THINK I ALMOST did not pop into ReBorn Home Furnishings in downtown Luverne because my husband mumbled something about “furniture store.”

But I should have known, given the name “ReBorn,” that this would be an extraordinary place.

Oh, my gosh, readers, to think that I could have missed this homegrown business which restores, recycles, reuses, refinishes, reincarnates, rebuilds and revives home furnishings.

On a July 2013 visit to Luverne in the southwestern corner of Minnesota, after gaping at the fantastic old Palace Theatre entry right next to ReBorn and after photographing other buildings along E. Main Street, I opted to check out the business that didn’t interest my spouse. Note that ReBorn, since my visit, has moved to a new location at 113 E. Main Street.

table

Sorry, readers, the table and chairs are sold as is the hand-painted blue grey Armoire.

Honestly, Randy’s male opinion aside, I loved this place. Loved it. It’s artsy and hip and purposeful and just one incredible source for one-of-a-kind recycled home furnishings.

The red dresser/buffet is priced at $295.

The red dresser/buffet was priced at $295.

I am all about reusing what we have. ReBorn transforms old furniture and furnishings in to incredible functional pieces that pop with color and personality. You won’t find anything cookie cutter here. The business even does custom work.

That magical Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

ReBorn sells furniture transforming Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

The secret to ReBorn’s look, so says Becky Feikema who was tending shop on the Saturday I stopped, is Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, a decorative paint that goes over most any surface without prep (such as sanding or priming) and leaves a velvety matte finish. ReBorn also protects the painted project with subtle sheen Annie Sloan Soft Wax.

I was a bit surprised that Becky, who has a degree in agriculture and not in interior design, shared so much, including two hand-outs on Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. But I suppose if you’re selling that paint, as ReBorn does, you push it.

This yellow table can be yours for $160. The chairs are $65/each.

This yellow table could be yours for $160. The chairs were $65/each.

I saw so many pieces of furniture and other merchandise in ReBorn that I loved. There’s that word again. Loved. I suspect, for that reason, Randy tried to steer me away from this incredible store. He knows me well. I resisted, I really did, and walked away (because I didn’t need anything) without a single purchase. Not that I wasn’t tempted…

The butterfly on the signage symbolizes the rebirth aspect of transforming old home furnishings in to something new and unique.

The butterfly symbolizes the rebirth aspect of transforming old home furnishings in to something new and unique.

FYI: Click here to reach the ReBorn Home Furnishings website to see before and after transformations, pieces available for purchase and more. This is one talented crew running this business.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Lots of merchandise to choose from in this corner display.

Lots of merchandise to choose from in this corner display. The hutch on the left was priced at $475.  The black chest of drawers and vintage fainting couch were sold.

The yellow shelving unit can be yours for $88.

The yellow shelving unit could be yours for $88.

This bench, repurposed from a bed, sells for $215.

This bench, repurposed from a bed, sells for $215.

The vanity/desk is marked at $135.

The vanity/desk, marked at $135.

FYI: ReBorn is open from noon to 7 p.m. on Thursdays and from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturdays. A Chalk Paint Class is set for this Saturday, October 4, and again on October 9. Click here for details.

Note that all of these photos were taken in July 2013 and therefore may not reflect current stock.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What art reveals June 15, 2013

An oil painting by P. Willis, purchased Thursday at the Recycled Art Sale, Paradise Center for the Arts, downtown Faribault. The sale continues until 5 p.m. Saturday, June 15. The painting now hangs in my living room.

An oil painting by P. Willis, purchased for $15 on Thursday at the Recycled Art Sale, Paradise Center for the Arts, downtown Faribault. The sale continues until 5 p.m. Saturday, June 15. The painting now hangs in my living room.

AFTER PURCHASING two original paintings at the Recycled Art Sale at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault this week, I started thinking about the art I choose for my home.

Nearly every single piece I’ve purchased second-hand from thrift stores, garage and yard sales, or that annual Recycled Art Sale. I’ve also been gifted with several works of original art.

Why do I buy what I buy?

You tell me. View examples below of art currently displayed in my home and share what you think the pieces reveal about me and/or why I selected them.

Go.

Displayed on a shelf in my dining room, this watering can was purchased at a craft store many years ago. I bought the Minnesota beverage tray at the Rice County Gas & Steam Engines Flea Market on Memorial Day weekend. I like repurposing like this tray as art.

Displayed on a shelf in my dining room, this watering can was purchased at a craft store many years ago. I bought the Minnesota beverage tray at the Rice County Gas & Steam Engines Flea Market on Memorial Day weekend. I often repurpose items like these as art.

I have yet to find a spot for this gladioli oil painting which I bought for $10 at the Recycled Art Sale.

I have yet to find a spot for this gladioli oil painting which I bought for $10 at the Recycled Art Sale.

I removed the folding legs from this TV tray, attached a ribbon and hung it in my dining room. I have several more of these same trays, purchased at a yard sale.

I removed the folding legs from this TV tray, attached a ribbon and hung it in my dining room. I have several more of these same trays, purchased at a yard sale.

Here's the setting where the fruit tray hangs, next to a vintage family dresser which my husband refinished many years ago. The items on the dresser, with the exception of the candle holder, were purchased at the Faribault Salvation Army (teapot) and at a flea market (wooden box).

Here’s the setting where the fruit tray hangs, next to a vintage family dresser which my husband refinished many years ago. The items on the dresser, with the exception of the candle holder, were purchased at the Faribault Salvation Army (creamer) and at a flea market (wooden box). The embroidered runner came from a garage sale. This is in a corner of my dining room.

Another TV tray, repurposed as art, sits atop the entertainment center in my living room along with dried hydrangea from a bush outside my front door.

Another TV tray, purchased at a garage sale and repurposed as art, sits atop the entertainment center in my living room along with dried hydrangea from bushes outside my front door.

Inside one of the cubbies in the entertainment center, I arranged these books, purchased at an annual used book sale and Faribault, and this alarm clock, bought at the Faribault Salvation Army.

Inside one of the cubbies in the entertainment center, I arranged these books, purchased at an annual used book sale in Faribault, and this alarm clock, bought at the Faribault Salvation Army for a few bucks.

One of my all-time favorite finds is this oblong mirror (only a portion shown here because mirrors are challenging to photograph without getting yourself in the pic)

One of my all-time favorite finds is this oblong mirror (only a portion shown here because mirrors are challenging to photograph without getting yourself in the pic) bought for 50 cents at a garage sale years ago. It hangs in a hallway, reflecting light.

In the guest bedroom, I created this floral scene atop a dresser. The floral print came from a garage sale, bought for under $1. I seldom spend much on any art I buy. The hydrangea are from my frontyard bush and the vase from flowers I once received.

In the guest bedroom, I created this floral scene atop a dresser. The floral print was purchased for less than $1 at a garage sale. I seldom spend much on any art I buy. The hydrangea are from my frontyard bush and the vase from flowers I once received.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Recycling art in Faribault June 14, 2013

Just a snippet of the art at the Recycled Art Sale, Paradise Center for the Arts, downtown Faribault.

Just a snippet of the art at the Recycled Art Sale, Paradise Center for the Arts, downtown Faribault.

ORIGINAL ART at a fraction of the cost. Check.

One of many pieces of original art for sale.

One of many pieces of original art for sale.

Priced to sell. Check.

A section of the floral painting I purchased.

A section of the floral painting I purchased.

Original painting purchased for $15. Check.

Art of all types is available for purchase.

Art of all types is available for purchase.

If you live anywhere near Faribault and have not checked out the annual Recycled Art Sale at the Paradise Center for the Arts, race down to 321 Central Avenue between noon and 5 p.m. today or Saturday.

I look forward to this sale every year and have found some great pieces, including an original oil on burlap by Mexican artist Jose Maria de Servin and Theodore de Groot LathArt by Austin Productions.

This year I brought home a floral oil painting by P. Willis, whose identity is unknown to me. Pamela? Patricia? Paul? I have no idea. But of one fact I am certain. I love the painting.

Shopping for art.

Shopping for recycled art.

And that’s the type of reaction Gail Kielmeyer, who serves on the Paradise Gallery Committee and the Mural Society of Faribault—sponsors of the Recycled Art Sale—witnesses among many a shopper. “All of a sudden they fall in love with a piece and have to take it home,” she says.

I came very close to purchasing this painting of gladioli. May still buy it.

I came very close to purchasing this painting of gladioli. May still buy it.

I expect that’s exactly what Kielmeyer and co-volunteer Mary Niermann thought as they watched me peruse the Paradise gallery crammed with everything from original pieces to prints to pottery, sculptures, mirrors, ceramics, and even art books. Prices ranged from a quarter for a dish to $400 for four Vietnamese in-laid mother-of-pearl panels which sold on the first day of the sale on Thursday.

Art lovers were waiting in line outside the Paradise for the noon opening of the sixth annual sale. One enthusiast calls the event her “very favorite sale of the year.”

And part of the reason may be the incredibly affordable prices. “A lot of people think original art is expensive and for wealthy people,” Kielmeyer says. Not so at this sale. Prices are kept purposely “priced to sell,” giving art lovers who might not otherwise be able to afford original art (that would be me), the opportunity to own original art.

That de Servin purchased several years ago cost me $7. The de Groot LathArt, $10.

You will find a variety of art from stills to landscapes, abstracts and plenty more priced to sell, many for under $20. Yes. Incredible.

I contemplated buying this barn art.

Lovely rural art.

All of the pieces are donated by people who are downsizing, for example, or remodeling or have had a piece forever. Or the favorite explanation this year heard by Kielmeyer: “We’re pretending we’re moving.”

Some artists come to the sale and buy the art just for the frames.

Some artists come to the sale and buy the art just for the frames. Note the interesting original duo art from Africa, above the frame. Loved it.

So the art some no longer want, need or have space for is now recycled into the hands of happy art lovers like me.

And, as a bonus, the Paradise and the Mural Society make some money. This year organizers hope to bring in $4,000 from the sale, about $1,000 more than last year. The first sale six years ago brought in $800.

Art and more art.

Art and more art.

Interest grows as do the number of donations and the variety of art offered. This year an estimated 1,000 items are for sale. Many had already been sold when I shopped on Thursday evening.  But you could have fooled me. The gallery is still packed with incredible art priced to sell.

BONUS PHOTOS:

For the wildlife lover...

For the wildlife lover…

If you appreciate a still life.

If you appreciate a still life.

For the traveler or the dreamer...

For the traveler or the dreamer…

For those who want to learn more about creating art...books and magazines.

For those who want to learn more about creating art…books and magazines are among the estimated 1,000 items at the sale.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet finds in Montgomery, Part II: Thrifting April 11, 2013

LONG BEFORE REPURPOSING, upcycling and recycling became fashionable, I realized the value in shopping second-hand.

Sweet Repeats, a thrift shop in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.

Sweet Repeats, a thrift shop in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.

Thus you can imagine my excitement when I discovered not one, but two, thrift stores in downtown Montgomery during a recent visit.

In this second installment focusing on the businesses my husband and I perused in this small south-central Minnesota community on a recent Saturday, I highlight those two thrift stores.

A sampling of the merchandise inside Sweet Repeats.

A sampling of the merchandise inside Sweet Repeats.

First stop was Sweet Repeats, which offers a wide variety of merchandise ranging from furniture to glassware, old tools, books, clothing and everything in between. Sifting through all the merchandise takes considerable time; I’m certain I missed some gems. But, because the building wasn’t heated—or at least it felt that way to me—I shopped at a faster speed.

I kept circling back to this chair, one of four paired with a rectangular glass-top table. I love the bones, the artsy design of this chair as well as the fabric. But I walked away from it, but not before testing the chair, which was too hard for my comfort.

I kept circling back to this chair, one of four paired with a rectangular glass-top table. I love the bones, the artsy design of this chair as well as the fabric. I walked away from it, but not before testing the chair, which was too hard for my comfort.

How well I remember S & H and Gold Bond stamps.

How well I remember S & H and Gold Bond stamps.

I stopped long enough, though, to reminisce when I saw an S & H Green Stamps book, recalling my mom saving, licking and pasting those stamps into books to redeem for merchandise. Funny I can’t remember a single item she got with stamps, only the stamps and the booklets.

Just like the camera my mom used when I was growing up.

Just like the camera my mom used when I was growing up.

I also admired a Brownie Hawkeye Camera while Randy eyed a set of poker chips like his grandparents pulled out on Saturdays.

Sweet pieces of Frankoma pottery.

Sweet pieces of Frankoma pottery.

For the collector, Sweet Repeats offers some sweet pieces of Frankoma pottery. I don’t know going prices on such collectibles. But the owners of this thrift store seem quite aware of value, meaning if you expect to score a steal simply because this is small-town Minnesota, you likely would be wrong.

Love the name, Bird's Nest, of this thrift store.

Love the name of this thrift store: Bird’s Nest.

Just up the street at The Bird’s Nest Thrift Store, a cozy non-profit shop that supports local projects, the merchandise offerings are mostly clothing and basic household necessities. I scored a summery straw purse for $2, perhaps a gift to an aunt or maybe I’ll just keep it for myself.

A nice selection of purses at the Bird's Nest.

A nice selection of purses at the Bird’s Nest.

The "make-an-offer" wedding dress.

The “make-an-offer” wedding dress.

Randy and I also examined a wedding dress as our eldest is shopping for a gown. The volunteer male tending the store was totally clueless as to any details about the unmarked, unsized dress stained with wine on one sleeve. But he offered to call Myrna while I photographed the gown.

You simply have to appreciate such a nicety which reflects the overall friendliness that prevails in Montgomery. These people are just plain nice, friendly folks. Exactly what I’d expect in a small town.

CHECK BACK for the next installment featuring downtown Montgomery businesses my husband and I visited. To read previous posts, click here and then click here.

And if you missed my first piece on an old-fashioned barbershop in Montgomery, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I recycle holiday trimmings and cards December 19, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:31 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

ONCE THE GIFTS are opened—after we’ve played the steal-the-presents game—gift wrap and trimmings are scooped up in a furious rush to rid the room of rubbish.

And if I’m not quick enough, I miss the opportunity to salvage ribbons and bows, tissue paper and gift bags.

I cannot bear to see these items trashed. My extended family knows this about me and they laugh as I hurry to gather in the goods at our annual holiday get together.

I used festive holiday trim and a card from Christmases past to decorate this gift.

I used festive holiday trim and a card from Christmases past to decorate this gift.

But I was raised right, by a Depression era mother who saved everything. As the eldest daughter in a family of six children, I assumed some of her saver traits, including the recycling of holiday trimmings.

I do not, however, rescue wrapping paper as Mom did so many years ago while a farm wife guarding every penny. She would fold each piece of gift wrap with great care, attempting to remove strips of Scotch tape without ripping the paper. And then she would pack the pretty paper away with the previously used bows to reuse the following Christmas.

Examples of Christmas cards in my stash that could be recycled into gift tags.

Examples of Christmas cards in my stash that could be recycled into gift tags.

Like my mom, I also learned to recycle holiday greeting cards into gift tags. Why not? With a few snips of the scissors, I have a lovely tag to adorn a present.

I like to think, as I’m clipping cards and gathering the pretties ripped from presents, that I am honoring my mother, honoring an entire generation of Americans who saved and scrimped and got by as best they could with what they had.

We could all learn from them.

Long before recycling and going green became trendy buzz words, they already understood the importance of reusing/repurposing.

A recycled ribbon and card grace this package.

A recycled ribbon and card grace this package.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Do you recycle anything from the holidays?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One person’s junk…Hot Sam’s Antiques, Part III September 19, 2012

Truck door signage, a nod perhaps to Jake Hood, owner of Hot Sam’s Antiques, Lakeville, Minnesota.

ONE MAN’S (or woman’s) junk is another man’s (or woman’s) treasure.

That adage could aptly be applied to Hot Sam’s Antiques, rural Lakeville, Minnesota.

I’ve posted about this antique theme park twice already. Click here and here to read those stories. But Hot Sam’s deserves a third post. Why? Think upcycling and recycling.

Barry, artist and upcycler of stuff at Hot Sam’s Antiques.

I appreciate businesses like Hot Sam’s Antiques which sell or re-purpose used stuff. We are too much a throw-away society although, in recent years, it’s become suddenly chic to upcycle or purchase vintage/used. I hope the trend lasts beyond the current economic depression.

Inside the log cabin at Hot Sam’s is a bounty of antiques, collectibles and other used merchandise. The door leads to the wrap around porch, where you’ll find more goods.

For decades I’ve shopped at rummage sales and thrift stores. The bottom line is that I am careful with my money, a trait instilled in me while growing up in a farm family with little money. Think eating white rice with cinnamon and sugar for a meal. Think no birthday presents. Think shopping only for clothes hung on the sales rack.

My parents worked hard to provide for our family of eight, but it was not easy for them. I never realized, though, that we were poor until I grew into adulthood. That’s a credit to my parents’ love and care.

Because of my upbringing, I tend to bargain shop and put less value on material possessions than many in today’s society. For example, of all the furniture in the house my husband and I own, only five—the sofa, recliner, twin bed frame, entertainment center and my office desk—are pieces we bought new.

Likewise, nearly all of the art I own originates from rummage sales, thrift or antique stores, or recycled art sales.

There. That should explain why I appreciate places like Hot Sam’s Antiques.

And I also like Hot Sam’s because of the creative art pieces such as Popeye and Olive Oil and Sweet Pea riding in the family car. I watched “Popeye” cartoons while growing up.

Somewhere in my memory bank I possess a memory of my dad telling us to watch for the flying red horse en route to visit relatives in the Cities. I couldn’t tell you now where that red horse was located, but I’m fond of this icon. In the background you”re correctly seeing a Statue of Liberty jutting from the front end of a partial vintage car.

I rode in a taxi once in Chicago. It didn’t look anything like this one at Hot Sam’s. But that’s my single taxi experience.

I’d like to attend a circus once… See why I love this place?

Ten years or more before I experience the validity of this statement.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering gnomes, a vintage cookbook & more at a used book sale May 5, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:19 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

AS I DREW OPEN the interior glass door into the Faribo West Mall, the offending odor of a hundred musty, damp basements stung my nostrils, mixing with the distinct aroma of Chinese food.

The moldy smell pulled me like an invisible string, past the Great China Buffet and the pet supply store, toward a vacant storefront, recent home to a variety store and years before that, a bookstore.

I stepped inside the former retail space into a temporary bookstore packed with thousands of books lining tables and shelves. I aimed straight for the Minnesota-authored titles while my husband veered toward the cookbooks.

Books I selected from the “Minnesota table,” albeit Prairie Perpendicular (one of my all-time favorite fiction books) is set in a small North Dakota farming community and written by a North Dakotan.

For 45 minutes we perused the selections, me picking How to Talk Minnesotan, A Visitor’s Guide by Howard Mohr, In Search of Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor and Prairie Perpendicular by Marston Moore (a North Dakota writer) from the Minnesota table.

I wasn’t searching for anything specific, only that which might interest me or others. The Minnesota language book will go to the oldest daughter’s boyfriend whom I will meet in a few weeks. He’s a California native, still living there, and likely could use a few tips about hotdish and bars. I’ll earmark page 16 for him in Lesson 3, “Eating In in Minnesota.”

If he wants to borrow Keillor’s book, I suppose I could lend it to him. But then again I don’t want to leave him with the impression that Minnesotans are, well, a bit off-kilter. I mean, if you didn’t know anything about ice fishing, what would you think of a photo of St. Joseph Rod & Gun Club members sitting on overturned buckets and playing cards while fishing on a frozen lake? Yeah, perhaps I best keep that Lake Wobegon book tucked away.

A snippet from the cover of Gnomes written by Wil Huygen and illustrated by Rien Poortvliet.

After discovering those gems, I moved on to the garden books and then the poetry and art and children’s titles. Somewhere in between I found a book about gnomes, complete with humorous stories and art that I just know my gnome-loving floral designer sister will appreciate.

But it was my husband who uncovered the find of the evening, a 1967 Minnesota Valley Cook Book. The 55-page supplement to The New Ulm Journal offers an interesting and amusing glimpse into the past in ads and recipes.

The cover of the 1967 Minnesota Valley Cook Book printed on news print. The cover photo of Mrs. Reuben Mammenga of New Ulm (sorry, no first name given) was taken by Ron Grieser. Mrs. Mammenga won the $5 prize in the pies category for her Chocolate Angel Pie.

I will share more about this 45-year-old southwestern Minnesota cookbook in an upcoming post. Just to pique your interest, did you know that (in 1967) “one of America’s largest department stores is just 11 inches high?” Can you guess which one?

Have you heard of Sauerkraut Cake and Tomato Surprise Cake?

Yes, the entertainment value in this old cookbook rates five stars. So does the Faribault chapter of the American Association of University Women’s annual book sale. Proceeds from the sale go to the AAUW Educational Foundation, local scholarships and community programs.

As I see it, everyone benefits through this book recycling process. Several months ago my 18-year-old son asked, “Mom, when’s that book sale?” He and a friend were at the sale when doors opened Thursday. He came home with a dozen science fiction (including one of his favorites, Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky) and fantasy books and a thermodynamics college textbook. Total cost: $12.

The sale continues from 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday; noon – 5 p.m. Sunday; and from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. May 7-9, next to JC Penney. Hurry in for the best selection. Expect to pay @ $1 per book with newer and mint condition books priced higher.

#

P.S. Please do not think all of the books at this sale smell musty. They don’t. I try to discreetly do a “sniff test” before purchasing.

HAVE YOU EVER shopped a used book sale? What gems did you find? Share your experiences in a comment on this post.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Earth Day wisdom from a Cherokee elder April 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:34 AM
Tags: , ,

My niece, Beth, one half of an Earth Day Cleaning Crew in a West Virginia neighborhood.

WHEN THE CLERK at Target handed me a free cloth Earth Day shopping bag last Sunday, I felt like a hypocrite. I had just purchased two rolls of paper towels and a package of paper plates, which she promptly tucked inside the reusable bag.

So, today, I am going to tell you about my 6-year-old niece Beth, who, in my mind, redeemed me from the error of my ways. I’m hoping her actions will assuage my guilt about purchasing those throw-away products, and inspire you.

Sweet little Beth and her mom, Rena, take Earth Day seriously. On April 22, the 40th anniversary of this event that raises environmental awareness, the pair crafted a recyclable art project, took their recyclables to the recycling bin, walked through their West Virginia neighborhood picking up trash and saw the Earth Day movie Oceans, with husband/father Tom.

Beth's recycled Earth Day 2010 art project, including her pledge to care for Mother Earth.

Whew! Rena, who home-schools first-grader Beth, inspires me with her energy and creativity. My niece inspires me with her endless enthusiasm. The mother-daughter team planned follow-ups to their Earth Day activities by putting up a birdhouse, which Beth painted, and mounting a bat house in their pasture.

“Beth is especially excited about the bat house because she loves to sit on the deck on the summer evenings to watch the bats come out to feed,” Rena says. “We are hoping to attract up to 30 little brown bats in this house for their winter hibernation.”

Honestly, I cannot share the duo’s enthusiasm for attracting bats. I wonder if they’ve ever had bats inside their home. I have.

When I emailed my sister-in-law to ask if I could post this story and the photos of Beth, she told me a bit more about her interest in Earth Day: “I think our respect for the earth comes with our family genes, because my granddad was a Cherokee…and grew up near the reservation in Oklahoma. He respected Mother Earth as most Native Americans do.”

She goes on to tell me that her grandfather moved to California during the Dust Bowl and started farming there. Desiring a way to fertilize without harming the earth, he founded Gypsum Fertilizing Company, grinding gypsum rock and other natural elements into a powder to be dusted over crops.

Hearing this story from Rena touched me in a way I can’t explain. I’ve always known of the deep respect Native Americans have for Mother Earth. I’ve always known, too, of their deep cultural respect for elders and the wisdom they possess.

But to personally witness this come full circle—the wisdom of a Cherokee elder passed to the fourth generation—gives me reason to celebrate.

© Text copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of my sister-in-law, Rena