Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Sweet Land” coming to Faribault & I’m in September 18, 2017

I KICKED BACK in the recliner attempting to read while my eyelids fluttered in fatigue. Randy relaxed nearby on the sofa, eyes focused on the Faribault Daily News. He started to say something, then stopped. “Never mind,” he said. Now that grabbed my attention. But I didn’t press. I figured if he wanted to tell me whatever, he eventually would.

 

 

 

The next morning Randy flipped open the paper and pointed to a display ad for the Fesler-Lampert Performing Arts Series at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault. Targeting his finger on the October 12 performance of “Sweet Land, the musical,” he asked me to order tickets. This, he said, would be my birthday gift, albeit late and on his birthday. Mystery solved.

 

Ann Michels in the lead role alongside Robert Berdahl. Photo courtesy of the History Theatre.

 

I am delighted with this birthday gift to a musical I had hoped to see on stage at the History Theatre in St. Paul. But we never got there and now the performance starring Faribault native Anne Michels as German immigrant Inge Altenberg is coming to my community, to the campus of a noted college prep school just across the viaduct from my home.

The Faribault performance is among seven on a summer and fall travel tour of “Sweet Land” to towns in greater Minnesota. Other upcoming shows are in Detroit Lakes, Grand Rapids, Red Wing and Worthington.

 

A promo for the film from the Sweet Land website.

 

My excitement for this musical traces to my deep love of the award-winning independent film, Sweet Land, based on Minnesota writer Will Weaver’s short story, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat.” The movie, filmed in my native southwestern Minnesota prairie, tells the story of a mail-order bride and the challenges she faces as a German immigrant. The topic is especially relevant today.

Yet Sweet Land is much more. It’s a story that also focuses on the love between two people in a place where the land weaves a strong presence into the storyline.

To have this opportunity to see Sweet Land locally rather than travel into the metro is a gift, birthday or not.

 

FYI: Click here for more information about the History Theatre’s tour of “Sweet Land, the musical.” Click here for specific info about the Faribault show.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Izzy at the Capitol August 12, 2017

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HER MAMA ONCE WORKED in the state office building next to the Minnesota State Capitol. Izzy, at 16 months, is too young to understand. But, on Friday, she was among Minnesotans celebrating the grand opening of the Capitol following a multi-year $310 million restoration.

 

Oh, where’s Izzy? Pun intended. Photos by Amber Schmidt.

 

 

 

 

When her mama, my eldest, sent photos of Izzy playing among the #ONLY IN MN letters on the front lawn, I just had to share the cuteness.

 

 

The rest of the weekend is jam-packed with activities ranging from concerts to tours to ongoing activities for families. Will I be there? No. I’m not a fan of mega crowds in the metro, plus lots is happening locally and I’m preparing for a family reunion.

 

The stunning Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from my last visit in 2009.

 

So “The People’s House,” as the Capitol is being promoted to all of us, will have to wait. I last toured the Capitol in 2009, when Amber worked next door. Prior to that, I’d only been there once, on a sixth grade class trip.

It’s a beautiful building. With the renovations, the first since the Capitol was built in 1905, I expect it to be even more stunning.

Some day my granddaughter can look back at these photos and hear the stories her mama tells about their trip to the Capitol on August 11, 2017…and how she cared more about a live owl than the Capitol restoration.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
photos by and copyright of Amber Schmidt

 

Observations while caught in St. Paul traffic July 25, 2017

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Southwest bound into St. Paul on Interstate 35E. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2017.

 

CREEPING SOUTHBOUND ALONG INTERSTATE 35E in St. Paul early Sunday evening in a snarl of traffic due to a lane closure, I studied my surroundings. And people watched.

I waved to the elementary-aged girl flapping a mini American flag out the window of her family’s maroon van sidled next to ours. She smiled. I smiled. And I wondered if her dad couldn’t wait to get out of the metro Minnesota traffic mess and back to Iowa.

I watched, too, as a motorcycle driver sped his bike, American flag flying from the back, onto the shoulder, skirting lanes to get ahead of four-wheel traffic.

Soon several vehicles followed in the right lane that had emptied of traffic about a block before the right lane closure. The zipper merge worked up until then. I could see an accident waiting to happen as the impatient motorists flexed their muscles, bullying into the left lane with concern only for themselves and whatever hurry they had. Drivers like that endanger all of us with their excessive speed.

I dug two peppermint life savors from my purse, rolled down the passenger side window, tried to relax in the near traffic gridlock. I’ve never determined how people can handle this daily congestion while driving to and from work or wherever.

 

 

 

Randy diverted my attention to a sign posted on the Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota building next to the interstate. We laughed at the suggestion that joint replacement could transform the average patient into a buff biker.

 

Tents like the one above hugged the fenceline above and along Interstate 35E just south of Interstate 94 in St. Paul.

 

Then I noticed a string of one-man tents hugging the fence along and above the interstate. I have no clue why anyone would camp in such a location. What was that all about?

As much as I dislike traveling through the Twin Cities metro, I always spot something intriguing. And I always land back home in Faribaault incredibly thankful that I don’t live in the Cities.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Scenes along the interstate in Minnesota May 8, 2017

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Driving toward downtown St. Paul along Interstate 35-E.

 

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT you’ll see while traveling the interstate. Too many motorists engage in risky behavior like tailgating, weaving from one lane to the other, texting, talking on their cells when their full attention should be on the roadway and more. It’s a crazy driving world out there.

 

I admire these MnDOT responders who aid motorists, here in the thick of interstate traffic near downtown St. Paul. It appears a mighty dangerous job.

 

I’m no fan of heavy traffic or travel in the Twin Cities metro. But then I suppose many people aren’t. Rural roadways can be just as unsafe.

 

Is the tanker actually carrying coffee or simply advertising it? Photographed northbound on I-35 toward the Twin Cities metro.

 

What’s the final destination of this outdoor enthusiast headed eastbound on I-35E?

 

How does the boss drive?

 

All of that aside, I always spot interesting scenes along the interstate. Interesting to me, anyway.

 

Southbound into St. Paul along I-35E.

 

TELL ME: What have you observed while traveling along the interstate?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

2016 Femicide Report: The stories, the stats, the call for action in Minnesota January 31, 2017

The 2016 Femicide Report and

The 2016 Femicide Report and a guide from the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial, both projects of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Photo by Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center, Faribault.

FORTY-FOUR PAGES.

This information about Barb Larson's murder was displayed with a personalized t-shirt as part of The Clothesline Project exhibited during the MCBW Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday. Photo by and courtesty of Sandra Seelhammer, Rice County Blueprint for Safety Cooridnator.

This information about Barb Larson was displayed with a personalized shirt as part of The Clothesline Project exhibited during the MCBW Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer, Rice County Blueprint for Safety Coordinator.

Names of 21 known domestic violence homicide victims, including that of Barbara Larson from my community, are printed within those pages. She was shot to death on December 23, 2016, by her ex-husband at her workplace, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.

An index lists section titles like Homicide Statistics, Red Flags for Batterer Lethality, Findings & Recommendations, Our Charge to Minnesota Communities, Victim Stories

The 2016 Femicide Report was released at a press conference Tuesday morning. Here Maplewood Police Chief Paul takes the podium. Photo by Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center, Faribault.

The 2016 Femicide Report was released at a press conference Tuesday morning. Here Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell speaks. Schnell received a 2016 MCBW Inspire Award “as a community ally for improving law enforcement responses to victims of domestic and sexual violence.” Photo by Erica Staab.

This comprises the 2016 Femicide Report released Tuesday morning by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. It is a document packed with statistics, facts, names, stories, educational information and recommendations all related to domestic violence homicides in Minnesota in 2016.

I challenge each of you to read this document by clicking here. It matters not whether you live in Minnesota, half-way across the country or on the other side of the world. If you read this report, you will better understand domestic violence, how it affects all of us and how you can make a difference.

A photo of a graphic posted on the MCBW Facebook page shows photos of all 21 individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson

A photo of a graphic posted on the MCBW Facebook page shows photos of 21 known individuals who died as a result of domestic violence homicide in 2016 in Minnesota. Barb Larson is pictured on the left, second photo from the top.

Be forewarned that the victim stories, especially, are difficult to read. But those are necessary to put a face to this violence, to provide clarity, to effect change. This needs to be a collective effort.

HOPE Center staffers and Faribault Police Department Captain Neal Pederson stand united with Barb Larson in honoring her memory. The family is holding the personalized t-shirt designed in Barb's memory for The Clothesline Project.

HOPE Center staffers Erica, left, Olivia, Sandra and Nikki, right, along with Faribault Police Department Captain Neal Pederson stand united with Barb Larson’s family in honoring Barb during the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial. The family holds the personalized shirt created in Barb’s memory for The Clothesline Project. Photo courtesy of Erica Staab.

I am especially grateful for places like HOPE Center, offering support to victims/survivors of violence (and those who love them) in Faribault and throughout Rice County. HOPE staffers participated in the MCBW’s Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial on Tuesday in St. Paul as did a captain from the Faribault Police Department.

This The Clothesline Project t-shirt honors Barb Larson. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer.

A closer look at The Clothesline Project shirt honoring Barb Larson. Photo by Sandra Seelhammer.

Rather than attempt to summarize more of the 2016 Femicide Report, I leave you with this strong statement published in the Foreword:

Victims deserve to be believed, to be heard, and to be safe in their homes and in public. We still need to invest in resources, effective interventions, and in accountability measures that are victim centered, including prevention efforts. We can also work to end these homicides by being a resource ourselves for victims; as their family members, friends, faith leaders, employers, teachers, and neighbors. Services provide necessary tools and support, but it takes a community to keep a victim safe.

Allow me to highlight what I perceive to be particularly important words in that paragraph: believe, accountability, victim centered and prevention.

And finally: …it takes a community to keep a victim safe.

TELL ME: How is your community tackling domestic violence? What are you doing to make a difference?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My appreciation for small town hardware stores January 13, 2017

Hardware Hank, photographed in Pine Island in October.

Hardware Hank, photographed in Pine Island in October.

IF YOU GREW UP in rural Minnesota like I did, you likely hold fond memories of the local hardware store.

Two hardware stores once served my hometown of Vesta, a farming community on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. While I remember Joe Engel’s Hardware store as the place to buy rolls of perforated caps for my cap gun, my father shopped there, or a few doors down at Marquardt’s Hardware, for all his hardware needs. Like bulk nails and screws stashed in cubbies, the merchandise weighed and parceled into brown paper bags.

I remember, too, the worn wood floors, the narrow aisles, the old fashioned screen doors that banged shut.

To this day, I find myself drawn to the hardware stores that still exist in many small towns. They represent a connection to my past, to simpler days, to outstanding customer service, to a Main Street necessity. So I photograph them, usually the exteriors.

Nothing says "small town" like a hardware store, including this Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha.

Nothing says “small town” like a hardware store, including Hill’s Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

One of my hardware store images—that of Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha—will soon become part of a renovated “Our World” gallery at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. The photo will grace signage for a mini town that includes a hardware store. Hill’s inspired the facade of the replica hardware store in which children can play. The updated exhibit opens this spring.

I am honored to have my photo displayed at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. I hope it inspires others to appreciate the value of hardware stores in rural Minnesota. They are as important today as they were when I was growing up in the 1960s. In Owatonna, Arrow Ace Hardware plans to relocate into a new and much larger space by next Christmas, more than doubling its size to some 11,000 square feet. That’s encouraging. There’s still great value in local hardware stores.

TELL ME: Do you shop in hardware stores? If yes, why? Are they still of value in today’s marketplace?  Or what are your hardware store memories? Let’s talk hardware stores.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What a difference a day makes August 22, 2016

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Rain clouds threatened as my husband and I headed south into St. Paul late Saturday afternoon.

Rain clouds threatened as my husband and I headed south into St. Paul late Saturday afternoon.

IN MINNESOTA, WE OBSESS about the weather. More than elsewhere? I don’t know because I have lived in this northern state my entire sixty years of life.

Just out of St. Paul, the sky unleashed torrents of rain.

Just out of St. Paul, the sky unleashed torrents of rain.

But weather has such an impact on our daily lives from the snowstorms of winter to the thunderstorms of summer that we take great importance in weather forecasts. And weather talk. If there’s nothing else to talk about, there’s always the weather.

Shortly thereafter, we came upon a weather related crash. The entire front of this car was smashed. Traffic snarled, apparently for a crash further away. That was cleared by the time we arrived.

Shortly thereafter, we came upon a weather related crash along 35E. The entire front of this car, left, was smashed. Traffic snarled, apparently for a crash farther away. That was cleared by the time we arrived.

A wash-out Saturday was not predicted, as I recall. But then I do tend to fall asleep during the 10 p.m. news, about the time the weather person appears on-screen with charts and maps and Doppler radar.

South of Burnsville, the clouds continued to build.

South of Burnsville, the clouds continued to build as we drove Interstate 35 toward Faribault.

Here in southeastern Minnesota, clouds and rain prevailed on Saturday, impacting outdoor events. I was snug in a first-ring north metro suburban home with my sweet 4-month-old granddaughter while the skies drizzled and the clouds built in to a torrent of rain upon my departure.

Westbound on Minnesota State Highway 99 west of Shieldsville.

Westbound on Minnesota State Highway 99 west of Shieldsville early Sunday afternoon.

As drenching as Saturday was, Sunday was not.

I captured this side mirror image late Sunday afternoon along a rural county road between Ottawa and Le Center.

I captured this side mirror image late Sunday afternoon along a rural county road between Ottawa and Le Center.

The day yielded sunshine and scattered white clouds puffed against a blue sky. No rain. Just cool temps without humidity. Truly glorious.

We came across this pick-up truck broken down along a rural county road near Ottawa. The driver was waiting for a tow truck.

Driving home from an event in St. Peter (I’ll post about that tomorrow), we came across this pick-up truck broken down along a rural county road near Ottawa. The driver was waiting for a tow truck. Sunday was a much better day to break down than during the Saturday rain.

It was a good day to talk about the weather.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling