Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Poking around Jordan on a Saturday afternoon February 21, 2017

A scene in downtown Jordan on Saturday afternoon, an exceptionally warm February day in Minnesota.

A scene in downtown Jordan on Saturday afternoon, an exceptionally warm February day in Minnesota.

JORDAN, MINNESOTA is quintessential small town, the type of place where kids bike to the ballpark, propel skateboards down the middle of the street and walk the dog with friends.

A Chinese restaurant is housed in one of Jordan's many historic buildings.

Empire Wok, a Chinese restaurant is housed in one of Jordan’s many historic buildings.

It’s an historic town of aged buildings, a creekside restaurant dubbed The Feed Mill and a collection of gift, specialty and antique shops clustered within walking distance of each other.

Two guys rested on a bench Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan.

Two guys rested on a bench Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan.

Here curbside benches encourage sitting for a spell.

This sign drew me into a wonderful little shop.

This sign drew me into a wonderful little shop.

Inside The Jordan Junker I found this creatively repurposed school desk.

Inside The Jordan Junker I found this creatively repurposed school desk with a U.S. map top-side. It would make for a unique end table. And, yes, the desk opens to storage inside.

Creative signage lures shoppers.

Customer favorites at Pekarna Meats are smoked pork sausage, ring bologna and baby back ribs.

Customer favorites at Pekarna Meats, family-owned since 1893, are smoked pork sausage, ring bologna and baby back ribs.

And the meat market sees a steady stream of customers.

Numerous shops are located downtown.

Numerous shops are located downtown.

Saturday afternoon my husband and I popped into this 1854 Minnesota River Valley community to poke around a few downtown shops. I appreciate the slower pace of Jordan, the Mayberry feel of this place with railroad tracks slicing through the business district. Here shopkeepers chat it up with customers in a welcoming way that is neighbor-friendly.

Two historic log cabins are situated downtown where bikers and others stopped on Saturday afternoon.

Two historic log cabins are situated downtown where bikers and others stopped on Saturday afternoon.

The community has a good vibe. And although our stay was brief and we didn’t see everything Jordan offers, I got a good sense of this small town. Only months earlier I visited Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store located along U.S. Highway 169 on the outskirts of Jordan. That place buzzes with busyness and the rush of traffic on the four-lane, so different from the quiet of downtown.

I delight in exploring small Minnesota towns like Jordan. This merchandise was displayed outside The Vinery Floral Home & Garden.

I delight in exploring small Minnesota towns like Jordan. This merchandise was displayed outside The Vinery Floral Home & Garden.

I’ll return to Jordan, next time better prepared with an itinerary. Seven years have passed since my last stop in the heart of the community. I won’t let that much time lapse before my next visit.

Another eye-catching sign outside a local garage.

Another eye-catching sign outside a local garage.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite small town? I’d like to hear.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a close-up of a Jordan antique shop.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Valentine’s Day every day February 14, 2017

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You can't go wrong with chocolate, like this box from my daughter Miranda on Mother's Day.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

VALENTINE’S DAY BRINGS expectations of love expressed in some perhaps grand way. It’s a great day for florists and chocolate shops and restaurants. And that’s alright. Both flowers and candy are visual reminders of love. Dining out allows time to connect and celebrate. I have a half-dozen red roses on my dining room table. And I appreciate them.

But even more important are the everyday moments of love. You know, those little things you take for granted in your life. Or the surprises that cause your heart to surge joy.

What does that look like for you?

 

homemade-valentine

 

For me, love has shown itself recently in these ways:

  •  a handcrafted valentine from friends
  •  the giggle of my granddaughter
  •  a bag of macadamia nuts, a gift from my eldest and her husband who recently vacationed in Hawaii, a place I will never visit.
  •  my husband washing the dinner dishes every Sunday so I can phone my mom at 6:30 p.m.
  •  a friend buying valentine books for my 10-month-old granddaughter whom she’s never met.
  •  an unexpected call from my second daughter
A view of the 300 block on North Broadway, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more.

Downtown Fargo, North Dakota, the real Fargo, not as depicted in the movie or TV series. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

  •  my husband binge-watching Fargo (the TV show) with me on DVD
  •  skyping with my son in Boston
  •  seeing my great nephew Landon with his face pressed to the patio door watching and waiting for my husband (Papa Two) and me to arrive
  •  texts from a friend asking, “How are you?”

Today, please express your care and appreciation for your friends, your family, and, yes, even for those outside your closest circle. Try to make that a practice every day.

Birthday roses from my husband, Randy.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Happy Valentine’s Day, dear readers! I appreciate you.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Two birthdays February 9, 2017

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Amber and Caleb. Minnesota Prairie Roots cell phone photo December 2016.

Amber and Caleb. Minnesota Prairie Roots cell phone photo December 2016.

TODAY AND TOMORROW, two of my three children turn another year older.

Now that they are adults (the daughter an hour away, the son in Boston), birthday celebrations have changed. I will celebrate belatedly with Amber by babysitting my 10-month-old granddaughter while she and her husband dine out. We’ll have a chocolate tofu pie upon their return, my contribution to the mini party.

As for Caleb, I hope to connect with him via Skype or a phone call. He’s young and single, less inclined to understand the need his mother has to talk to him on his birthday. At his early twenties age, friends take priority. No surprise there. I was once young.

Amber in 1986, sometime during her first year of life. The photo is not dated. A friend told me she looked just like the baby on the Gerber baby food jars.

Amber at six months.

Not that I was a young mother. I wasn’t, having given birth to my first daughter at age 29 ½ and to my son eight years later with another daughter in between.

Motherhood shifts behavior and thoughts to a primeval need to nurture, protect and love our children. And as the years pass, that never changes.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb's sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb’s sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother.

My children’s birthdays bring now a certain melancholy in that I miss them and birthday dinners out followed by the ritual of singing “Happy Birthday!” and then eating the homemade dessert of their choice, not always cake.

But this is the logical progression of parenthood—this move of our children toward independence, beginning at birth.

Today and tomorrow, I will honor my youngest and my oldest by thinking of them, their lives and the blessings they have given me as their mother. I love them deeper than the ocean, higher than the skies. I will always love them and encourage them. They are of me and that connection binds us always on their birthdays.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering those who died of domestic violence homicide in Minnesota January 30, 2017

Barb Larson. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home.)

Barb Larson. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home.)

TO THOSE WHO KNEW Barb Larson, she was classy, sassy, upbeat and kind, always smiling.

Tomorrow she will be among those remembered at the Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial at the St. Paul College Club in St. Paul. Barb was murdered on December 23, 2016, by her ex-husband at The Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office where she worked. Richard Larson then turned the gun on himself.

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coaltition for Battered Women..

Statistics on a The Clothesline Project t-shirt from the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Barb’s name, and that of Minnesota’s 20 other 2016 victims of domestic violence homicide, will be read during the 4 p.m. memorial program. The January 31 memorial also includes The Clothesline Project, a display of personalized t-shirts honoring victims. That visual makes a strong impact. I know. I viewed a previous The Clothesline Project at a July 2015 event in Owatonna.

A graphic from the MCBW Facebook page promoting release of the 2016 Femicide Report.

A photo of the graphic published on the MCBW Facebook page promoting release of the 2016 Femicide Report.

Prior to the Tuesday afternoon memorial, the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women releases its 2016 Femicide Report, a compilation of information on intimate partner homicides in Minnesota. Erica Staab, executive director of HOPE Center in Faribault, is serving as the MCBW member program rep during that morning release to the media. She will also attend the afternoon memorial along with Rice County Blueprint for Safety Coordinator Sandra Seelhammer and, I expect, others from the Faribault community. Family and friends of all 21 victims were specifically invited to the public event.

Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were honored at The Clothesline Project display this summer in Owatonna. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women coordinates the project to honor victims of domestic violence. Redeemer Lutheran Church brought the project to Owatonna this past summer.

Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were honored at The Clothesline Project display in July 2015. Redeemer Lutheran Church brought the project to Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

I wish events like this were not needed, that domestic violence did not exist. But it does. And it affects all of us, directly or indirectly. My community understands that all too well with the death of Barb Larson in December and the murder of Faribault native Margie Brown Holland and her unborn baby, Olivia, in March 2013.

Clothesline Project, in her honor

Words on a t-shirt at a The Clothesline Project display in Owatonna in July 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

We all need to care—enough to educate ourselves so that we understand domestic violence. We need to stop blaming victims. We need to support victims/survivors and those who love them. We need a system that holds offenders accountable. We need to take a stand against domestic violence. We need to speak up, to end the silence.

A comment on the MCBW Facebook page from the daughter of a

A photo of a comment on the MCBW Facebook page honors Barbara Ann Wilson, murdered in April 2016 in Mankato.

FYI: The Tuesday, January 31, Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial runs from 3:30 – 5 p.m. at the St. Paul College Club, 990 Summit Avenue, St. Paul.

Please check back for information on the 2016 Femicide Report, which I will review upon its release.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering Senicha & her unborn baby January 26, 2017

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Senicha Lessman. Photo credit: Eagan Police Department

Senicha Lessman. Photo credit: Eagan Police Department

HER BROWN EYES HOLD a certain soulfulness. I can see that in Senicha Lessman’s photo released by the Eagan Police Department. She died Tuesday afternoon of homicidal trauma to her face and neck. As did her unborn baby; Senicha was 32 weeks pregnant.

Two lives lost. Senicha, 25, will never see her son, due March 19. Her son will never see his mother. Their senseless and violent deaths are sad and tragic and maddening.

Family and friends and co-workers grieve the loss of this young woman, this mother-to-be. She was excited about becoming a mom, was registered online for baby gifts. A swing. Diapers. Bottles. Burp cloths. She held hopes and dreams. No more. This baby who would become a boy who would become a teen who would become a man lost his future in an act of violence.

Police arrested a 23-year-old man as a person of interest in the murders. He was in a relationship with Senicha. If he proves to be the perpetrator, then this makes Senicha and her baby victims of domestic violence.

When will it end? When? There is never an excuse for violence against women. Fatal or otherwise.

 

UPDATE: Thursday, January 26, 3:36 PM

Vern Mouelle, 23, of Brooklyn Park has been charged with one count of second degree murder (with intent) and with one count of murder of an unborn child in the second degree (with intent) in the deaths of Senicha and her baby. He has been identified as the father of the unborn baby boy by Senicha’s mother. Click here to read the news release from the Dakota County Attorney, including details of the investigation and the criminal complaint.

 

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call 911. If not, but you are in a physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, financially or technologically abusive relationship, please seek support from a local women’s shelter and/or advocacy group, a trusted friend or family member, someone. You are not alone. You deserve to live free of abuse. You are so worth it.

NOTE: These double murders remind me of the deaths nearly four years ago of Faribault native Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia. Margie’s husband was convicted of first-degree murder for both deaths. That hit close to home. Margie’s father once lived across the street from me.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I from Pleasant Grove: About those pioneer women January 24, 2017

pleasant-grove-town-hall-99-historical-marker

 

I ALMOST CAN’T BELIEVE what I am reading:

The first “real” settlement, with housekeeping and women, in Olmsted County was made in 1853 by Philo S. Curtis in the village of Pleasant Grove, then known as Curtis. The following year Mr. Curtis opened the Pleasant Grove House, a three-story log hotel at the junction of the Pioneeer (Fort Atkinson) Trail and the Territorial Road (St. Paul-Dubuque Road)…

 

pleasant-grove-town-hall-100-close-up-of-sign

 

Reread those first words: The first “real” settlement, with housekeeping and women

 

pleasant-grove-town-hall-98-side-view

 

What exactly does that mean? The words are posted on a sign erected in 1966 (or maybe it was 1986 at the Pleasant Grove Town Hall; I can’t decipher the decade) by the Olmsted County Historical Society.

 

pleasant-grove-town-hall-102-ballot

 

Pleasant Grove, as I understand the historical marker, was the first settlement in this southeastern Minnesota County where women lived. And those women were tasked with housekeeping. (Maybe more?) Now there’s nothing wrong with either sex assuming household duties. But I’m bothered by the wording; as a woman, it just strikes me as wrong. This is, after all, 2017, not the mid 1800s. A woman ran for President. Women ran for office everywhere, even in Olmsted County. We can vote. We can march. Perhaps this could be written in a more positive way to honor the early pioneer women who settled here.

 

pleasant-grove-town-hall-103-front-of

 

And why were so many towns named after men? Did you catch that? Philo Curtis established the village, originally called Curtis. Thank goodness someone had the good sense to change the name to the much more pleasing Pleasant Grove.

 

pleasant-grove-town-hall-101-meeting-notices

 

Now, if only someone would replace the weathered, nearly unreadable historical marker with something more pleasant.

TELL ME: What are your thoughts on the wording of this sign? Should it be changed? If so, what would you write? Or is it OK given the historical context?

FYI: Please check back as I bring you more discoveries from my stop in Pleasant Grove several months ago, well before winter arrived.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts after the inauguration from my ordinary life in Minnesota January 23, 2017

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inauguration

 

A COLLAGE OF THOUGHTS swirl as I consider the weekend, one that began with watching inauguration coverage. My life is so far removed from Washington, from all the glitz and glam and powder blue fashions. I simply can’t relate to such wealth, such power, such opulence.

There’s really no comparison to my ordinary life in Minnesota.

 

car-wash-vehicle

 

My weekend involved grocery and other necessity shopping, checking out a pile of books and a movie from the library, watching a 1960s film about Bonnie & Clyde, sitting through the car wash twice, reading On Writing Well by William Zinsser, rewriting a piece of nonfiction, attending worship services, calling my mom and going to the funeral home. Walk into one visitation, then out the door and into a second visitation.

 

Soap slides down the car window at the car wash, symbolic of my weekend.

Soap slides down the car window at the car wash, this edited photo symbolic of my weekend.

I consoled grieving parents, two grieving husbands, a grieving son and two grieving daughters. I wrapped my arms around a young woman shaking with sorrow at the death of her 56-year-old mom. I comforted a friend who painted the nails of her deceased 98-year-old mother-in-law lying dressed in her wedding gown. As I considered the nonagenarian’s Christian faith, I thought how fitting her burial attire.

 

inauguration-crowd-copy

 

 

This weekend was one of tears, of ranging emotions, of grey skies and foggy days. The world of Washington elite seems as far removed from my life as Mars.

TELL ME: Do you ever think similar thoughts, wondering how those in power can possibly understand the ordinary worlds in which most of us live? Be advised that I don’t want this to turn into a heated political debate.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling