Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An unexpected package from Santa December 6, 2017

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WHEN A SMALL PACKAGE arrived in my mailbox on Tuesday with a Merry Christmas! From: Santa Faribault, MN 55021 return address, I had no clue what I would find therein.

But, oh, the sweetness of this surprise moved me to tears at the thoughtfulness of the mysterious Santa who clearly read my recent post, “Passing a love of books onto the next generation.” In that post I reference a favorite childhood storybook, Three Billy Goats Gruff, and my regret at not purchasing a copy spotted at a Pequot Lakes antique shop.

 

 

That reader took my post to heart and sent me a vintage copy of Three Billy Goats Gruff. See why I’m thrilled with this unexpected gift. This individual gifted me with a book that I hold dear.

 

 

Now, rereading this story as an adult, I like it even more:

I’m not afraid,” said Little Billy. And up onto the bridge he ran—trip-trippety-trip!

 

 

This fairy tale of three billy goats attempting to cross a bridge under which a mean troll lives inspires bravery. The trio outwits the troll and gets safely to the other side and a hillside of lush grass. The empowering message of strength and courage proves as applicable for children as for adults.

 

 

As to the identity of Santa, I have only a few clues—the name NANCY ANN OLSON stamped inside and that Faribault postmark and return address. I don’t know any Nancy Olsons. The giver could be someone other than an Olson. Or it could be Nancy. I have no idea.

But to you, dear anonymous Santa reader, please know that your gift of Three Billy Goats Gruff touched me deeply. I am grateful for your kindness, which truly exemplifies the spirit of giving. Thank you. And Merry Christmas!

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The things you learn about Minnesota prisons while on the road October 25, 2017

 

ONCE UPON A TIME, beginning in the late 1870s, inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility, Stillwater, built agricultural equipment. Through the years they crafted threshing machines, hay rakes, barge wagons, manure spreaders and more.

 

 

This proved news to me. But Randy noted that as we followed a tractor pulling a gravity box along LeSueur County Road 13 on Sunday afternoon. He pegged the wagon as 1970s vintage prisoner made.

 

 

Online research confirmed Randy’s claim in articles published in Farm Collector magazine. According to those stories, prisoners built ag equipment until 2006.

 

 

Today inmates within Minnesota’s correctional system—including right here in my community of Faribault—produce products through the prison system’s MINNCOR Industries. Those range from residential and office furniture to clothing to printed materials to cabinetry and more.

 

Prisoner made furniture at Buckham Memorial Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2017.

 

When I visit my local library, I can sit on inmate built easy chairs or loveseats, some upholstered in knock-knock joke fabric with this favorite prisoner joke:

How do prisoners make phone calls?

With cell phones.

 

 

Much has changed since the days of building manure spreaders…and gravity boxes

 

 

as time passes in the rearview mirror of prison life.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet as Strawberry Shortcake October 23, 2017

I love this image of my granddaughter looking out the front door of my home. I love the light, the mood, the sweetness, the perspective.

 

FOR PROBABLY A DOZEN YEARS or more, the homemade child’s dress hung in an upstairs bedroom closet. I’d purchased it at a garage sale with intentions of some day giving the Strawberry Shortcake print dress to my eldest niece. The dress would be the perfect nostalgic gift for Tara, born a year after the popular doll line debuted. She loved all things Strawberry Shortcake. I imagined how she would delight in receiving the dress for her newborn daughter.

 

Grandma needed a portrait of Isabelle in her vintage Strawberry Shortcake dress.

 

But as life goes, Tara birthed a boy just over a year ago. So, by default, the long-held dress went to my granddaughter, Isabelle. On an early September visit, Izzy showed up in her Strawberry Shortcake dress, much to my joy.

 

 

 

That dress, stitched so lovingly with rick rack trim and accented with mini heart buttons nearly 40 years ago by an unknown seamstress, fit the then 17-month-old perfectly.

 

 

She looked adorable.

 

 

I’m not sure her mom shared the same enthusiasm for the garment as I did. But my eldest made me a happy grandma by slipping this sweet dress onto her daughter for an afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

I captured the exact moment Izzy discovered that the recliner rocked. She threw her head and arms back in exuberance.

 

Izzy paged through books, played with blocks, blew bubbles, splashed in water, rocked in the recliner and more, moving at the speed only toddlers can move. And she managed all in that vintage dress, the unintended dress now perfectly hers.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Janesville: Discovering Ms. Mac’s Antiques October 13, 2016

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ACROSS FROM THE OLD GRAIN ELEVATOR, in the solid brick building that once housed a bank, Ms. Mac’s Antiques anchors a corner of downtown Janesville.

 

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I was delighted when, last Friday afternoon, the OPEN flag fluttered from a post outside this southeastern Minnesota business.

 

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My expectations were not particularly high. But, surprise. I stepped into a shop so skillfully and artfully designed that it could be featured in the pages of a national magazine like CountryLiving.

 

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My favorite piece in the entire shop because this statue reminds me of me as a young girl.

My favorite piece in the entire shop because this statue reminds me of me as a young girl.

 

For a few moments I just stood there, taking in the vignettes displaying a plethora of collectible, vintage, antique, architectural salvage and other merchandise.

 

Ms. Mac's signature crow sales tag.

Ms. Mac’s signature crow sales tag.

 

And then, after a quick perusal of the front ground level section of Ms. Mac’s, I introduced myself as a blogger to the man behind the counter. He’s Ron Hardeman, known as Mr. Mac in this family-owned business. Susie McConville is Ms. Mac, the talented designer. And the couple’s daughter, Jessica Oberpriller, is Ms. Mac, too. She runs a second shop, Ms. Mac’s, too, in Carver.

 

The picket fence mimics the shape of the old grain elevator across the street.

A section of picket fence inside the shop mimics the shape of the old grain elevator across the street.

 

While Susie still works full-time as a clinic manager in nearby Mankato, Ron runs the shop solo weekdays. He quickly obliged my request to photograph Ms. Mac’s Antiques. As we chatted, I learned that the couple, who live in Mankato, fell in love with the old bank building. I can see why. It has character with worn wooden floors, high ceilings, nooks and generous light pouring in through an abundance of windows.

 

There's lots of merchandise in the basement.

There’s lots of merchandise in the basement.

 

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The basement also provides space for additional treasures.

 

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Still, even a good bones appealing historic building does not make the shop. An eye and hand for displaying merchandise do. And Susie possesses both. Plus, a good strong business sense, connections and networking also make this business work. Ms. Mac’s customer base stretches across the U.S. with antique dealers coming to this small Minnesota farming community to find merchandise they can’t find in their locales.

 

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As I poked around, I assessed that Ms. Mac’s offers an eclectic mix of unique merchandise not typically found in Minnesota antique shops I’ve visited. And, no, the Hamm’s beer bear is not for sale.

BONUS PHOTOS:

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Mother Hubbard items come from a Mankato flour mill.

Mother Hubbard items come from a Mankato flour mill.

 

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Sitting on the front counter, this Scripto service station is being used and is not for sale.

Sitting on the front counter, this Scripto service station is being used and is not for sale.

 

Even the OPEN sign on the front door is creatively appealing.

Even the OPEN sign on the front door is creatively appealing.

 

FYI: Ms. Mac’s Antiques is open from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Click here for more information.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Focusing on festive Faribault December 11, 2015

Looking down Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

Looking down Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK a lot like Christmas in historic downtown Faribault, despite the lack of snow.

Peanuts characters adorn the former Kay's Floral building on the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60.

A Peanuts theme plays on the windows of the former Kay’s Floral building at the corner of Central Avenue and Fourth Street/Minnesota State Highway 60.

Evergreen boughs adorn wrought iron fences. Snowflake lights and holiday banners hang from vintage style street lamps. White lights drape trees, creating a festive mood. And, throughout the downtown, merchants showcase Christmas displays in storefront windows. There’s something magical about a business district transformed for the holidays.

Lights adorn trees in the downtown including next to the Signature Bar & Grill, Faribault's version of "Cheers." Here you'll find, in my opinion, the best pizza in town.

Lights wrap trees in the downtown including next to the Signature Bar & Grill, Faribault’s version of “Cheers.” Here you’ll find, in my opinion, the best pizza in town.

A snippet of the festive window display at Vohs Floors.

A snippet of the festive window display at Vohs Floors, which celebrates 70 years in business in 2016. Harry Vohs started the business in his living room. The second-generation flooring store is owned by his son, Karl, and Karl’s wife, Ann.

Even the clothing on the mannequins in The Crafty Maven display is vintage.

The Crafty Maven created this window display for the vintage theme division of the holiday window decorating contest. The display highlights businesses that were open in Faribault when sisters and Maven owners, Beth Westerhouse and Dee Bjork, were growing up here. Many of those businesses are no longer open. The Crafty Maven also will close in January.

Wednesday evening, in balmy weather that is more September-like than December, I grabbed my camera in an attempt to capture some of the magic that is Faribault. Mine is a city of some 23,000 that takes pride in its downtown, a place of aged, well-kept buildings. There’s a sense of history here, a sense of community connection. Small town appeal.

Santa at Vohs Floors.

Santa inside Vohs Floors.

From sleigh rides to visits with Santa to a holiday window decorating contest and more, there’s much to see and do. Faribault Main Street and downtown merchants are working hard to welcome locals and visitors alike with “Hometown Holidays” events.

The Paradise Center for the Arts presents "Twice the Cheer: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever."

Paradise Community Theatre presents “Twice the Cheer: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” this weekend at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

This Saturday, for example, you can participate in the following activities:

Keepers Antiques

Keepers Antiques shows some holiday glitz in its window display.

Wedding and party glam spotlighted at Weddings by Deb.

Wedding and party glam spotlighted at Weddings by Deb.

Festively dressed dolls snug at sewing machine at B & J Sewing Center.

Festively dressed dolls snug a sewing machine at B & J Sewing Center.

If you’ve never been to Faribault, come, spend an afternoon and/or evening here in a city that’s all decked out for the holidays. Meander through our one-of-a-kind shops. Enjoy the hospitality of friendly merchants. Celebrate the magic of the season in southeastern Minnesota.

BONUS PHOTOS:

This winter wonderland in the window of Dufour Cleaners was voted the all-around favorite in the holiday window decorating contest.

This winter wonderland in the window of Dufour’s Cleaners was voted the all-around favorite in the holiday window decorating contest. Thousands of cotton balls were used to create the snow in the scene.

Studio 14 Salon & Spa placed first in the Peanuts themed division of the window decorating competition.

Studio 14 Salon & Spa placed first in the Peanuts theme division of the window decorating competition.

Here's the other side of the Peanuts display at Studio 14.

Here’s the other side of the Peanuts display at Studio 14.

Charlie Brown and crew also occupy a window space at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

Charlie Brown and crew also occupy a window space at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The PCA won for best vintage theme.

Nearby is this holiday display at Paul Swenson Portraits.

Nearby is this holiday window at Paul Swenson Portraits.

A vintage sled rests in a front window at Vohs Floors,

A vintage sled rests in a front window at Vohs Floors.

The Crafty Maven created this window display for the vintage themed division of the holiday window decorating contest. The display highlights businesses that were in Faribault when Maven sisters and owners Beth Westerhouse and Dee Bjork were growing up here.

An overview of the vintage themed window display at The Crafty Maven.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III: Feelin’ groovy in St. Charles November 20, 2015

Vintage Treasures and Decor along Whitewater Avenue in downtown St. Charles, Minnesota.

Vintage Treasures and Decor along Whitewater Avenue in downtown St. Charles, Minnesota.

VINTAGE TREASURES AND HOME DECOR read the vivid yellow sign propped against a building in downtown St. Charles. That was enough to draw my husband and me into this newly-opened shop, relocated here from Byron.

Posted, but not for sale.

Posted, but not for sale.

But before I show you some of the merchandise, let’s discuss that word vintage. What defines vintage? I turned to online dictionaries to find synonyms like outdated, old-fashioned and retro. I choose retro. That seems most applicable to the merchandise from my era that captivated me at Vintage Treasures. Groovy.

This merchandise display screams 60s and 70s.

This merchandise display screams 60s and 70s.

You can say all you want about the 60s and 70s, about hippies and Woodstock and peace marches and tie-dyed and psychedelic fashion. But it really was a memorable period in our nation’s history, a time when young people began to question the establishment and the choices made. Not that previous generations didn’t speak up. But the volume seemed louder, the voices more distinct, the opinions shouted in music and fashion and protests.

These berets (or tams) were popular

I remember crocheted berets (or tams) similar to this from the 60s and 70s.

Personally, I was a shy teen coming of age in a rural area, far removed geographically from the unrest of the 60s and 70s. But I still cared. I kept up on current events, listened to rock-and-roll on KDWB, wore too-short skirts and flashed the peace sign.

One of two retro trays I purchased.

One of two retro trays I purchased.

So when I discovered a section of retro merchandise inside Vintage Treasures, I flashbacked some 40 years. This was of my generation. I didn’t need the retro tin Peace and Love trays I purchased for $2 each. But I bought them anyway and would have liked a third, except shop owner Laurie Rucker had already sold the others.

Elvis was a little before my time.

Elvis was a little before my time.

I’m thinking it would be fun sometime to host a 60s and 70s party. Wear tie-dye. Burn incense. Dip cubed bread into a cheese-filled fondue pot. Or maybe fruit into chocolate. Play some Beatles or Chicago. Serve beverages on those trays. Rock it out.

Thoughts? On the definition of vintage? The 60s and 70s?

BONUS PHOTOS: Yes, Vintage Treasures and Home Decor includes more than hippie era merchandise and here’s a sampling.

I remember one of my siblings having a papoose doll. Although not politically-correct today, these dolls are part of our past.

I remember one of my siblings having a papoose doll. Although not politically-correct today, these dolls are part of our past.

I always appreciate handcrafted, like these embroidered pieces.

I always appreciate handcrafted, like these embroidered pieces.

The toy section.

The toy section.

Humpty Dumpty, one of the toys in the toy area.

Humpty Dumpty, one of the toys in the toy area.

Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose collectibles.

Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose collectibles.

FYI: Click here and here to read two previous posts I published in this three-part series from an early September stop in St. Charles.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III From Albert Lea: Antiques & memories October 29, 2015

A Halloween mask for sale at Antiques of the Midwest.

One of several Halloween masks I spotted at Antiques of the Midwest in Albert Lea, Minnesota.

DO YOU REMEMBER your favorite Halloween costume? I do. I dressed like a gypsy, pulling a black cotton skirt striped with vivid hues from my mom’s closet and safety pinning it around my waist. I topped whatever blouse I wore with a winter coat. A thin elastic band on a molded plastic gypsy face mask gripped my head as I peered through cut-out eye holes. Strands of plastic beads swayed from my neck. Bangles danced on my wrists. I felt every part the care-free gypsy.

Clown masks can be scary or fun, depending.

Clown masks can be scary or fun, depending.

Memories of my brief gypsy life flitted through my thoughts as I perused Antiques of the Midwest in historic downtown Albert Lea. Among all of the merchandise in this sprawling shop, I spotted several Halloween masks. And that sparked the playback of childhood memories.

Three stacks of JC Penney catalogs dating back to the 1940s are available for purchase at Antiques of the Midwest.

Three stacks of JC Penney catalogs dating back to the 1940s are available for purchase at Antiques of the Midwest.

An Archie mask for sale.

An Archie mask for sale.

Vintage clothing proved fun to peruse.

Vintage clothing proved fun to peruse.

And isn’t that what antique stores play into—cherished memories? Nostalgia sells. Otherwise why would I care about outdated merchandise like uncomfortable plastic Halloween masks that curbed clear vision and psychedelic clothing and stacks of old JC Penney catalogs?

Although I didn't want this vintage 1960s make-up mirror, I never-the-less was drawn to it.

Although I didn’t want this vintage 1960s make-up mirror, I never-the-less was drawn to it.

When you shop at an antique store, what do you find yourself drawn to?

I hold a fondness for old glass pitchers. They are works of art.

I hold a fondness for old glass pitchers. They are works of art.

For me it’s vintage drinking glasses and tablecloths (yes, I already own too many), clocks and art. Oh, how I love a vintage print or an original. Most often, though, I buy these at garage sales or thrift stores. I have enough art that I can switch it out in my home. Often.

If only I still had that toy buggy in which I pushed dolls and cats dressed in doll clothes.

If only I still had that toy buggy in which I pushed dolls and cats dressed in doll clothes.

Filing through a rack of children’s clothing at Antiques of the Midwest, I discovered a red plaid wool skirt just like one I wore as a child. How many of you have clothes from your childhood or teenage years? While cleaning my mom’s basement several years ago, I found a pair of cuffed lime green pants worn when I was a stick thin teen. They are hanging now in the closet of a spare bedroom in my home. Someday, my children will ask, “Why did Mom keep these?” Perhaps the pants will end up in an antique store, but more likely will be trashed.

Antiques of the Midwest holds thousands of antiques and collectibles.

Antiques of the Midwest holds thousands of antiques and collectibles.

Opening the door into an antique shop compares to opening a book about life. Therein, in the collections of items from yesteryear, our stories unfold. Imagine the stories I could write if I sat in an antique store, unobserved, eavesdropping.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Just inside the front door, the canary yellow molded chairs caught my eye.

Just inside the front door, the canary yellow molded chairs caught my eye.

Mannequins always make merchandise seem more usable and personal.

Mannequins always make merchandise seem more usable and personal. I also consider them artsy.

This creative display helps shoppers to visualize this merchandise in their homes.

This creative display helps shoppers visualize merchandise in their homes.

If you're already thinking Christmas, at least one vendor has a sizable Christmas display.

If you’re already thinking Christmas, at least one Antiques of the Midwest vendor has a sizable Christmas display.

Merchandise snugged into a cabinet.

Merchandise snugged into a cabinet makes for a museum like display.

This is the first puppet I can remember finding in an antique store.

This is the first puppet I can remember finding in an antique store.

FYI: Antiques of the Midwest is open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. It is closed on Mondays from December – March. The shop is located at 218 S. Washington Avenue in downtown Albert Lea.

This is the third in my “From Albert Lea” series. Check back for one final post. Click here to read my first and then my second story.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling