Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Urban photography April 18, 2019

 

CITYSCAPES INTRIGUE ME, for many reasons. But primarily visually.

 

 

Metro scenes differ vastly from the rural scenes I typically photograph. Rural equals a visual simplicity. Metro, overall, offers more chaos, more distractions, more color and variety. That’s a generalization. Chaos can be found, too, in rural, simplicity in urban.

 

 

Photographers always comes to photography with backgrounds, experiences, perspectives that influence images. We edit as we shoot. At least I do.

 

 

 

 

On a recent trip into the Twin Cities metro, I shot a series of images as Randy drove along Snelling Avenue. I’m unfamiliar with the area but noted banners identifying St. Paul’s Hamline Midway district. I observed, too, the cultural diversity of businesses.

 

 

 

 

And I thought about that, how I grew up in rural Minnesota among all Caucasians with the only differences whether you were a town kid or a farm kid, Catholic or Lutheran. I am thankful that has changed in some rural areas of Minnesota. Not all certainly.

 

 

 

I remembered that thought hours later when guests began arriving for my granddaughter’s third birthday party. Izzy’s little friends and their parents are a mix of ethnicities. And for that I am grateful. She views her world through a kaleidoscope. Not a single, focused lens.

 

THOUGHTS?

 

FYI: I invite you to click here and view the work of award-winning New York City photographer and blogger Keith Goldstein. He does incredible street photography, primarily portraits. Keith offers glimpses of humanity. I love to study his images, to see people and places that differ vastly from rural Minnesota.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Spring afternoon at River Bend, a photo essay April 9, 2019

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AUTUMN’S OAK LEAVES cling to branches.

 

 

Swatches of green pop in the woods.

 

 

Fungi ladder tree trunks.

 

 

 

 

Brilliant red flashes against weathered grey.

 

 

Ponds populated by trilling peepers reflect the changing blue of the sky.

 

 

Geese honk territorial warnings best respected.

 

 

A camouflaged bird blends into stands of invasive buckthorn.

 

 

Dried vegetation proves a visual reminder that spring is not yet fully here in Minnesota.

 

 

But tell that to the woman walking barefoot.

 

 

Just behind the boys with feet still snugged inside winter boots.

 

 

At River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, people hiked and biked and rested on benches and even tracked squirrels in Sunday’s 60-degree temps. (More on the squirrels later.)

 

 

If not for the forecast of major snowfall later this week, I might believe these brown woods will soon leaf into a canopy of green.

 

 

No one would doubt that on Sunday, an ideal day to delight in the outdoors, to read poetry in the woods.

 

 

Spring spread her wings over River Bend on a lovely early April afternoon in southern Minnesota.

 

© 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

 

Small town observations from southwestern Minnesota April 3, 2019

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I APPRECIATE THE ODDITIES of small towns. If oddities is the correct word.

But there are things you can do in rural communities that you can’t in others much larger.

For example, while driving through downtown Belview, Minnesota, on a recent Saturday afternoon, I spotted two guys outside the August Donnor American Legion Post washing a tank. One with a hose, the other with hands on hips. Supervising probably.

The scene seemed so iconic rural.

I snapped two frames while Randy and I passed by, returning from the Cenex just down the main street on the northern end of the short business district. I needed a cylinder of Pringles for my mom back at the city-owned care center. She’d asked for them. I found a few canisters in several flavors, a neon orange sticker pricing the potato chips at $2.39. That sticker in itself speaks small town.

I explained my mission to the clerk, who used to work at Parkview, whose mother was once my mother’s table mate in the assisted living part of the facility. That’s the thing about rural Minnesota, too. Lives weave into lives.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Signs of Christmas linger in Minnesota into March March 28, 2019

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ACROSS THE STREET, on my neighbor’s front door, a faded Christmas wreath hangs. Needles dried and dropping. Decorative ribbon faded. In my own side yard, our dried Christmas tree, once buried under snow, lies atop a flowerbed.

 

Christmas greetings on an outbuilding on a farm site just west of Mankato along U.S. Highway 14 photographed on Saturday.

 

It’s not uncommon here in Minnesota to see outdoor Christmas decorations up well into spring. Whatever the reason. I suppose the cold and snow hinder removal, especially this winter.

 

In a New Ulm yard, a sign on a tire swing says, “Santa stop here.” Christmas lights also wrap an entry column on the left. Photographed on Saturday, March 23.

 

Or, after awhile, we simply don’t notice whatever we pass by on a daily basis. That explains, for example, why cardboard covers a section of wall in my dining room. We removed a brick chimney about 10 years ago with plans to add a mini pantry. Such is the stuff of plans detoured by finances. Now I don’t think about that plan much anymore, unless a first-time visitor stops by and I find myself explaining why we have a cardboard wall. But I digress.

 

At the site of Farm Fest and the Gilfillan Estate, the Redwood County Historical Society wishes motorists a Happy New Year.

 

Back to that holiday décor. I photographed several examples of Christmas greetings still in place while traveling back to my native southwestern Minnesota this past Saturday. Hopefully soon spring and/or Easter themed décor replaces signs of Christmas.

 

 

At least one New Ulm business, A to Zinnias Florals & Gifts, recognizes the seasonal change to spring by offering 25 percent off on all bunnies. That would be home decorating bunnies. Not real.

 

Rudolph in a farmyard along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm about half way to Morgan.

 

TELL ME: Is it common in your area for seasonal Christmas decorations to stay up too long? Or what defines “too long?”

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Statewide rallies on Wednesday focus on domestic violence March 26, 2019

Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women graphic.

 

FROM GRANITE FALLS on the western edge of Minnesota to Rochester in the southeastern corner. From up north in Bemidji to down south in Mankato. From central Minnesota to the State Capitol. Folks will gather Wednesday at various locations around the state to raise awareness about domestic violence.

Whether you’re from a rural area or a metro area, or some place in between, you ought to care. Domestic violence knows no geographical boundaries, no age limits, no financial status, no occupation, no ethnicity, no anything. It’s prevalent everywhere. It can, and does, happen to anyone.

Your daughter. Your sister. Your friend. Your co-worker. Your neighbor. Your fill in the blank. Maybe you.

While Minnesotans gather in communities large and small, they will also rally collectively in the State Capitol Rotunda from 11 a.m. – noon on Wednesday. They are the voices of survivors. They are the voices of those who help, who encourage, who raise awareness, who empower. They are advocates and community leaders. They are ordinary people. They are, together, a powerful voice. They are us.

Those who gather will also push for legislation that will provide funding for a Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention Program. Such legislation would provide grant monies to nonprofits “for the purpose of funding programs that incorporate community-driven and culturally relevant practices to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault.”

If you’re like me, you probably won’t participate in a rally. But you can, on a personal level, make a difference. Educate yourself. Choose to believe victims and survivors. Stop the blaming. Support, love, encourage. Give financially to a local advocacy group that helps those affected by domestic violence and/or sexual assault. Refuse to look the other way. Refuse to give up. Refuse to remain silent. Speak up. Wherever you live.

FYI: Click here for details on Minnesota communities planning rallies on Wednesday, March 27.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My thoughts on college choices & admission March 14, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

THE CURRENT COLLEGE ADMISSIONS SCANDAL got me thinking about the whole process of applying to colleges and the pressure on young people today to get into the best, the most elite, the place that will supposedly launch them into successful careers.

Why has this mindset evolved? Who decides if a particular college should get that “best” label?

Why is admittance to certain universities so important that parents will spend lots of money on tutoring and test prep and whatever else to supposedly increase test scores? Some students retake college entrance exams repeatedly in an attempt to bump up scores. I can only imagine the mental angst of that process. And are those scores then truly a reflection of the student’s academic abilities? Or are students setting themselves up for insurmountable challenges if they gain entrance to an especially academically rigorous college?

That’s a lot of questions. I don’t pretend to hold the answers. But I wonder why it’s come to this.

Why are some of the wealthy and powerful allegedly getting away with (until now) buying their kids’ entrances into these top-rated, highly-selective universities? Every single young person should gain admittance to any college on their own merits. But it’s no secret either, that cost excludes many qualified and talented students from colleges. Having money allows others to attend those same colleges.

So, yes, wealth can buy you into a university that is financially out of reach for many families. Yes, financial aid can offset costs, but still may not be enough to make all colleges accessible to all.

Financial talk aside, ideally students should decide on college application choices based on their goals, their aspirations, their passions, their interests. Not on what society or their parents or anyone else thinks. Maybe that so-tagged outstanding university isn’t the best choice. Maybe the best choice is a community college or a state university. Or no college at all.

We as parents, as a society, need to stop putting so much pressure on our kids to achieve. We need to stop comparing, stop interfering, stop trying to micro manage and solve problems. In challenges and failures, our kids learn, too.

We need to stop handing out participation ribbons and trophies to everyone. Kids need to learn from a young age that they’re not always going to be rewarded for simply showing up. Not everyone gets the prize. And that’s OK.

Circling this back to college choices, I hope students choose to further their educations at colleges that challenge them, stretch their thinking, prepare them for their careers, broaden their worlds and more. Not because they think they need to attend a so-called prestigious university.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling