Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An, oh, so Minnesotan celebration at Faribault Flannel Formal February 5, 2019

 

Me in flannel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MINNESOTA STATE LEGISLATORS recently considered the Labrador retriever as our state dog. The loon is our state bird, the Lady Slipper our state flower. And so on.

Now, if our elected officials decided we also need a state winter dress code, I’d push for flannel shirt and jeans. That’s my outfit of choice from late autumn into spring, or whenever winter ends. Because I work out of my home office, Friday casual fits daily. And because I’ve never been pegged as a fashionista (ask my sister who got my childhood hand-me-down clothes and still reminds me to this day of my horrible fashion sense), I embrace comfortable attire. Like blue jeans and flannel.

 

Source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

So does my community. From 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. this Saturday, February 9, Faribault Main Street celebrates its annual Faribault Flannel Formal. It’s a fitting event for Minnesota, home of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan, typically dressed in red and black buffalo plaid flannel and sturdy jeans.

 

Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

To promote the event, locals have been wearing flannel to work and about town on Flannel Fridays.

 

Legendary Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo.

 

The lumberjack theme is very much a part of the Faribault event at 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers and adjoining Corks and Pints in the heart of our historic downtown, just a block off Central Avenue. The dress code obviously calls for flannel with honors awarded to the best-dressed lumberjack and lumberjane.

 

A ticket to the Formal will get you a free commemorative jar. I love these. Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

Attendees can also get into the Paul Bunyan spirit by competing in lumberjack themed games—the giant beaver toss, hammerschlagen and duck the branch.

 

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Another Minnesota staple—hotdish (not casserole)—also is an integral part of the Faribault Flannel Formal. Folks are invited to cook up their favorite hotdishes for sampling and a $100 Chamber Check top prize. Who doesn’t love hotdish, the ultimate Minnesota winter comfort food? I’ll take Minnesotan Amy Thielen’s Chicken and Wild Rice Hotdish, thank you. She hosts Heartland Table on Food Network, among other accomplishments.

No Formal is complete without music. The Rochester Caledonian Bagpipers kick off the evening with the classic rock tribute band Horizontal Hero following.

 

Past Faribault Flannel Formal attendees. Photo compliments of Faribault Main Street.

 

While I’ve not attended a Formal yet, I’m pretty certain I’d enjoy it. I mean, I wouldn’t need to dress up. The challenge would come in choosing which flannel shirt to wear. Blue/gray/black? Red/black/gold? Green and black? Teal/black/subtle orange? Green and brownish? Yup lots of choices in my closet.

 

Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

FYI: For more info on the Faribault Flannel Formal, including tickets, click here.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The holiday spirit comes to Faribault during Winterfest this week (end) November 28, 2018

This classic vintage pick-up truck decorated by Brushworks Signs rated as one of my favorite entries in last year’s Winterfest parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

MORE AND MORE, COMMUNITIES in greater Minnesota are discovering the value in creating holiday events that attract locals and visitors. That includes Faribault, which this week hosts Winterfest, an expansion of the long-running Hometown Holidays.

It’s a smart move on the part of host, Faribault Main Street. Anything that brings people into Faribault benefits tourism and businesses through exposure and sales. This marks the second year of Winterfest, highlighted last December by a Parade of Lights. This year fireworks precede the 5:30 p.m. Saturday parade along Central Avenue in our historic downtown.

 

Faribault’s version of the Polar Express. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

But before I expound on Saturday, there’s Thursday’s Hometown Holidays evening of family-oriented attractions and activities from 5 – 7:30 p.m. at Buckham Center. From greeting Santa and his reindeer to crafts, music, snacks, a holiday movie and more, families will find plenty to do. I wish my granddaughter lived closer. I’d take her.

 

Local merchants showcase the holiday spirit in window displays. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

A few blocks away in the heart of the business district, the holiday spirit prevails Thursday evening in a window decorating contest, horse-drawn wagon rides, ice carving, and caroling by Due North, a Minneapolis-based a cappella group. From 6 – 8 p.m. our local art center hosts the Paradise Center for the Arts Acoustic Gallery featuring music by Cannon River Currents and artisan gifts crafted by 20 regional artists at the Holly Days Sale. Downtown shops will be open, too.

That’s Thursday. Friday focuses on teens with open gym and swim, board games and other activities at the Faribault Community Center from 6 – 8 p.m.

 

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army outside Walmart. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Then comes Saturday, a day so jam-packed with events that I wonder how I can possibly get to everything. I’m also ringing bells for the Salvation Army for two hours.

 

The table set for Christmas guests at the Alexander Faribault house. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

Saturday at 10 a.m., the Rice County Historical Society opens the doors to the home of our town founder for a French-Canadian Christmas at the Alexander Faribault House. That runs until 3 p.m. But if Saturday doesn’t work for you, the historic home will also be open on Friday from 4 – 7 p.m. It’s a fun way to learn about Faribault history in a festive setting.

 

The back of the parade as it heads north along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

History will also be on display along Central Avenue at the Faribault Sno-Go Club Vintage Snowmobile Show from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday. Then, as darkness settles, units start arriving for the 5:30 p.m. parade with the fireworks kick-off. A street dance follows from 6:30 – 10 p.m.

In between, you can take in Mick Sterling Presents “At Christmas,” a blended show of music and comedy opening at 7:30 p.m. at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Sunday brings another holiday show with the Paradise Children’s Theatre performing “The Nutcracker Prince” at 2 p.m. and again at 4 p.m.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

That’s a lot happening in my community. And I’m sure there’s more, like the annual craft and bake sale and luncheon at Peace Lutheran Church on Saturday.

 

Crowds gather along historic Central Avenue as the sun sets before the 2017 Parade of Lights. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

I’m grateful to all who are working so hard to bring the holiday spirit to Faribault through Winterfest and other events. Thank you.

TELL ME: Does your community host any big holiday events?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I love Decorah, Part I November 26, 2018

Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in downtown Decorah draws many visitors interested in learning about their heritage.

 

TWICE I’VE VISITED DECORAH in northeastern Iowa. It’s one of those towns that feels comfortable, inviting, an ideal destination for someone who prefers rural to urban.

 

Decorah is named after Ho-Chunk Chief Waukon Decorah. I spotted this portrait by noted artist Charles Philip Hexom on a stairway wall at the public library.

 

What makes Decorah so appealing to me?

 

 

 

 

The architecture.

 

“Doe and Fawn” sculptures by Victoria Reed stand in a public plaza near a downtown co-op.

 

Love this mural of “Irene” painted by Valerie Miller of Steel Cow.

 

A stone sculpture on the Nelson & Co. building.

 

The art.

One of my favorite spots in Decorah, the waterfall at Dunning’s Spring Park, site of a former grist mill and gifted to the city in 1946.

 

The natural beauty.

 

Valdres House, one of many authentic Norwegian rooted buildings at Vesterheim. This is a typical Norwegian landowner’s house, dismantled and shipped from Norway to Decorad in the mid 1970s.

 

The downtown shops and eateries. The city’s appreciation of its strong Norwegian heritage, even if I’m of German heritage.

And the people. While at Pulpit Rock Brewing, Randy and I shared a picnic table with a young couple and their daughter (and her grandpa). They were quick to answer our questions about places to eat, sleep and explore.

Upon their recommendation, we stayed at a new hotel on the edge of town and met a trio of college friends together for their annual girlfriends’ reunion. They welcomed us into their circle at a gas-fired campfire on a perfect early autumn evening. When did hotels start adding this amenity? I loved it. There’s something about fire…

 

The Upper Iowa River runs through the 34-acre Decorah Community Prairie and Butterfly Garden. This view is from a scenic overlook in Phelps Park.

 

And water. Water is part of the draw for me to this river town.

 

Magnificent stone work at Phelps Park, which also includes a fountain (not on at the time of my visit) crafted from stone.

 

Upon the recommendation of the family at the brewery, we sought out Phelps Park. There we found extensive stonework done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I often wonder when I see such work, “How did they build this without modern equipment?”

Outside an historic downtown building with a corner tower, I chatted it up with an elderly man on a bench. He drives in from the farm every morning to meet friends for coffee and to sit and people-watch. He lives out by the supper club, he said, which meant nothing to me. But I pretended like it did. He’ll never see me again.

That’s the thing about travel. If you engage with the locals, you’ll learn a thing or ten about the place you’re visiting. Stuff you won’t find on a website, stuff best learned in conversation.

TELL ME: Do you chat it up with locals when you’re traveling? I’d like to hear your stories.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from Decorah. Have you ever visited Decorah and, if so, what appeals to you there?

NOTE: I took these photos during a mid-September visit to Decorah. The landscape obviously looks much different today. So if you’re not inclined to visit this Iowa city now, think ahead to next spring or summer.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Feeling right at home at Seed Savers Exchange in rural Iowa, Part I October 18, 2018

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HAVE YOU EVER VISITED a place where you were so comfortably at home that you felt as if you’d been there before, but you hadn’t?

 

 

Seed Savers Exchange just north of Decorah, Iowa, feels that way to me. A nonprofit that preserves heirloom plants through planting and nurturing and seed saving, Seed Savers appeals to the farm girl in me. The peaceful setting. The red barn. The ruralness of it all. Iowa. So like my native southwestern Minnesota.

 

 

A tangle of plants, some towering, some not, drew me into a garden near the massive red barn where young women scooped seeds from ripe tomatoes during a mid-September visit. This is their work, this preservation of seeds. I thought of hippies and pioneers and how this tedious labor matters.

And I thought of biting into a sun-warm tomato plucked from the garden, juice trickling from the corners of my mouth. Memories from the farm.

 

 

 

 

I watch Monarchs and bees wend among towering stems of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate blossoms, their flight like words of poetry in Diane’s Garden.

 

 

 

 

There’s so much to love about this place. Berries in the back of a pick-up truck. Chicks clustered, safe behind chicken wire. A path that leads away from the farm site to narrow streams. Quiet as only quiet can be in the countryside.

 

 

 

 

 

And then a second garden on the other side of the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center. Here my favorite flower—the simple zinnia and corn drying to harvest and sunflowers heavy with seed. And more, oh, so much more.

 

 

Inside the visitors center, the results of it all—rows and rows and rows of stocked seed packets. Bull’s Blood Beet. Rat-Tailed Radish. Hungarian Heart Tomato. What to choose from among all the alliterations, all the words that write of bounty and beauty. I choose Sea Shells Cosmos Mix for myself, Gold Medal Tomato for a niece with a passion for gardening.

 

 

I wish I could stay here, far from the stresses of life. I feel a peace in being here, sequestered from reality, from noise, from the world. There’s something about Seed Savers Exchange that feels comfortably familiar to me. Like I lived on this land once, walked below this blue sky, wandered among the waving blossoms of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate. Yet I’d not been here prior to this visit. Except perhaps in the poetry of words and of memories.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from Seed Savers Exchange.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Downtown Wabasha up close during SeptOberfest September 27, 2018

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Autumn decor (including German flags) adds an artistic seasonal welcome to a side street next to Heritage Park in downtown Wabasha.

 

GIVEN MY PHOTOGRAPHER’S EYE, I see beyond an overview. I notice details. And in the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, details abound, especially during SeptOberfest, the community’s annual two-month celebration of autumn.

 

Driving toward Wabasha and the bridge that connects Wisconsin and Minnesota.

 

Pumpkins line picnic tables in Heritage Park, site of many SeptOberfest events, including activities for children.

 

A view from the river bank of the Mississippi and the bridge between Wabasha, Minnesota, and Nelson, Wisconsin.

 

On a recent late week day afternoon, I walked about 1 ½ blocks from Heritage Park, a community gathering spot under the grassy area of the bridge connecting Wabasha to Nelson, Wisconsin, through the business district. I intentionally looked up, down and around to see the character of Wabasha. Details reveal much about a place and its people.

 

Signs above a business note the history of the building. Wabasha has some beautiful historic architecture as noted in the reflections in the window.

 

This street clock adds to the visual historic appeal of downtown Wabasha.

 

German or Irish, Wabasha has your food tastes covered during SeptOberfest.

 

I especially enjoyed the woodcarvings of George Schwalbe currently displayed in the front window of Jerry Arens Insurance.

 

Scroll through my photos and you will note an appreciation for history and heritage and a strong sense of community pride. Folks here care about how this town looks.

 

Outside Pure Identity Salon & Spa, the Tin Man, created from a pumpkin.

 

Pay attention to signs in windows. They tell you a lot about a town.

 

Festive scenes like this are staged throughout downtown Wabasha.

 

I appreciate the seasonal décor of scarecrows propped on straw bales, of festive banners, of carved pumpkins. I remember a town that goes the extra length to transform a downtown into a memorable visual. Wabasha impresses.

 

 

If you value small towns, you must visit Wabasha, also home to the National Eagle Center. Make this river town a day trip, an overnight destination. Now, as autumn blazes color into the landscape, as Wabasha celebrates the season during SeptOberfest.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A favorite fall event in Minnesota: SeptOberfest in Wabasha September 26, 2018

I photograph festive Hill’s Hardware Hand nearly every time I’m in Wabasha. A photo I took of the hardware store several years ago hangs near the Our World hardware store exhibit (modeled after Hill’s) at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul.

 

WABASHA IN SOUTHEASTERN MINNESOTA ranks as a favorite fall day trip for me. I love everything about this community from its historic architecture to the river to the National Eagle Center to its annual celebration of autumn and much more.

 

Banners throughout the downtown add to the charm.

 

A riverside play area awaits kids in Wabasha’s version of “Zootopia.”

 

A creative way of measuring height in Zootopia.

 

Another look at Zootopia, packed with activities for the kids.

 

An elephant slide zips kids down the hill into riverside Zootopia.

 

This Mississippi River town, population around 2,500, knows how to promote itself with fall-themed activities, events and attractions for all ages. From a pumpkin derby to a straw maze, petting zoo, kids’ themed play area, seasonal boutiques, a German parade and lots more, activities abound during SeptOberfest.

 

Outside a salon, a pumpkin transforms into the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

 

Across from the Pumpkin Patch, an eye-catching street corner scene.

 

Pumpkins galore…these on a picnic table in the Pumpkin Patch.

 

Beyond that, I delight in the pumpkins, straw bales, scarecrows, shocks, German flags and other décor which add seasonal visual interest.

 

All over downtown are old buildings and harvest displays.

 

This all takes planning, hard work and time. I want the good folks of Wabasha to know I appreciate their efforts. They understand the value of bringing people into town, of growing as a fall destination, of promoting their community.

 

“Grumpy Old Men,” a film set in Wabasha in 1993, themes this year’s straw maze.

 

Gigantic sunflowers brighten the Pumpkin Patch.

 

Pumpkins transformed into characters from the movie “Trolls.”

 

Last year my eldest daughter, her husband and our then 1 1/2-year-old granddaughter joined us on a weekend afternoon to take in the kids’ activities. Izzy loved the riverside Zootopia play space, the straw maze and the Pumpkin Patch. This year Randy and I stopped in Wabasha on a late weekday afternoon. There were no crowds, only a few kids playing at Zootopia. The town was mostly shutting down for the day. But weekends you can expect crowds, though not overwhelming, with lots of families enjoying SeptOberfest.

 

There’s lots to do in the Pumpkin Patch, including playing tic-tac-toe.

 

If you’ve never been to Wabasha in the autumn, I’d encourage you to visit. There’s still lots happening in October. Click here to learn more. Also head down Minnesota State Highway 61 to LARK TOYS on the outskirts of nearby Kellogg for a spin on the handcarved carousel and a visit to the toy store and other attractions.

 

An overview of the Pumpkin Patch created under the bridge that connects Wabasha, Minnesota, to Nelson, Wisconsin.

 

For someone like me who appreciates small towns, especially river towns, and loves autumn, Wabasha offers an ideal one-day get-away.

TELL ME: Have you ever been to Wabasha’s SeptOberfest? Or tell me about another small town autumn celebration you’ve attended and enjoyed.

Check back for another post from Wabasha.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Topiaries & a trading post in Pillager August 20, 2018

 

PILLAGER TRADING POST and Antiques. There’s something about the name that holds history. History of a place, that place being the small town of Pillager some 10 miles southwest of Brainerd in central Minnesota

 

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The overflow building is interesting with a beautiful stone fireplace.

 

 

 

Antiques pack the overflow building.

 

Randy and I stopped there briefly last September while heading north to Park Rapids for a book release party. With minimal time, we didn’t poke around this town of several hundred. Just checked out the Trading Post and the business’ second building across the street. And a nearby green space.

 

 

 

More merchandise in a side wing of the Trading Post.

 

The open space featured topiaries ringed by homemade wooden benches. An odd contrast of modern natural art to the vintage finds within the antique shop. A city park perhaps? I left town without an answer. Sometimes a bit of mystery adds to the allure of a place like Pillager.

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling