Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

February at forty degrees February 15, 2018

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IN SNOW TINGED with dirt, a curled brown maple leaf lies, a remnant of autumn lingering in this month of February.

Above, the sun flares against a blue sky bordered by bare branches.

Below, laundry hangs on the line. Drying at forty degrees.

I delight in it all—heat of the sun, fence line shadowed on a dwindling snow pack, ice melt dripping from gutters, long johns on clothesline, interior kitchen door flung open. All hold the hope of spring in a Minnesota winter that seems always too cold, too snowy, too long.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Only in Minnesota, North Dakota & Wisconsin February 10, 2018

Ice fishing on Union Lake in rural Rice County, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2017.

 

LIFE CAN BE STRANGER than fiction. As a life-long Minnesotan, I know that to be true.

 

Vang Lutheran Church advertises its annual Lutefisk & Meatball Supper. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

For example, here in Minnesota, we drive onto frozen lakes to drill holes in the ice and then angle for fish. We also organize polar plunges in which we dive into frigid lakes in the winter to raise monies for charities. And we eat cod soaked in lye at annual church dinners. Some of us. Not me, although I’ve tried lutefisk twice.

 

Downtown Fargo, North Dakota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Our neighbors to the east and west can tell similar strange stories. The most recent comes from the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo. On Thursday around lunch-time, a cow escaped from The Little International Livestock Show and roamed the campus for a short time before it was wrangled.

 

This photo, taken in southwestern Minnesota, illustrates the size of the cow which escaped at NDSU on Thursday. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

The NDSU Saddle & Sirloin Club sponsors the show, the largest student-led event on campus with 300 collegiates involved. That likely explains the calm reaction of students in the short video clip I watched of the escape. Students didn’t panic. They continued walking to classes or wherever they were headed. Many of them come from rural areas to this school with numerous ag majors. No reason to get excited about a bulky, wandering bovine.

 

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Then we have Wisconsin, which never ceases to surprise me, especially with its Packers fanaticism. I’ve seen brat buns and popcorn colored green and gold. And in Wautoma, two neighboring houses are painted in Packers colors. At least they were several years ago.

 

My daughter, Miranda, snapped this scene through the back car window while in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Miranda Boyd.

 

But then along came a February 4 report from my daughter, who lives in eastern Wisconsin and who was in Madison for the weekend. She snapped a photo of a guy riding a motorcycle, or maybe it’s a scooter, as snow fell on a 10-degree day. How crazy is that?

TELL ME: What stranger than fiction story can you share from your community or state?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Wisconsin biker photo courtesy of Miranda Boyd

 

 

Frosty returns to Faribault February 7, 2018

 

FOR ME, WINTER in Faribault wouldn’t be winter without the ginormous snowman standing in the front yard of an historic home at 18 Third Avenue Northwest.

 

 

Here the Hoisington family has crafted a giant Frosty for the past nine winters, first acquiring sufficient additional snow from church parking lots and now from the Faribault Ice Arena. This year’s snowman came to life in early December, although I sidetracked to view it for the first time several days ago.

 

 

I’ve seen and photographed this towering snowman for three, now four, years. Still, I react the same—with a broad smile. There’s something about a snowman, no matter it’s size, that recounts the winter fun of childhood. And that’s a good thing to remember when I tire of the cold and snow in the Bold North.

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Click here to see my 2014 blog post on this snowman.

Click here to read the 2015 post.

And click here to read the 2016 post.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota kids promote winter preparedness in hit Super Bowl LII music video January 31, 2018

Minnesota kids (and adults) need warm hats and mittens during these cold and snowy Minnesota winters. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

IF YOU GREW UP IN MINNESOTA or any similar cold climate place, you likely heard this directive from your mom whenever you left the house in winter: Remember your hat and mittens. And wear your boots.” I did.

 

The snow boots I wear today are warm, practical and fashionable. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When I became a pre-teen, though, I thought I knew better and often didn’t listen. I couldn’t muss my hair by wearing, God forbid, a stocking hat or appear unfashionable in clunky, practical boots.

 

Our southwestern Minnesota farmyard is buried in snowdrifts in this March 1965 image. My mom is holding my youngest sister as she stands by the car parked next to the house. My other sister and two brothers and I race down the snowdrifts. My home farm is located near Vesta in Redwood County.

 

But Mom’s warning imprinted upon me enough that I eventually recognized the wisdom of her words and passed the same advice along to my three children. Living on the windswept Minnesota prairie, Mom understood that brutal winter cold could cause frostbite and worse. Best keep safe and warm.

 

I grabbed this quick shot of the students and their teacher, right, on GMA.

 

So when I heard about the music video, “Coats, Hats & Gloves,” created by students at Franklin Middle School in Minneapolis, I thought of all those Minnesota moms (and dads) who have delivered the same message of preparedness through the generations. Except their words were more often than not dismissed.

But now kids from The Futureboys and Futuregirls program at Franklin have made keeping warm decidedly cool in their video gone viral. Tuesday morning the kids and their teacher appeared on Good Morning America to talk about the song that welcomes Super Bowl visitors to Minnesota. Temps here on game day are predicted to be around zero, if that, and even feels-like lower if wind factors in.

Their basic message—when you come to Minnesota, you better be ready…never leave your house without your coats, hats and gloves—is the same my mom delivered. Except they present it in a way that’s decidedly hip, decidedly cool and decidedly memorable. Well done, kids of the Bold North.

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Click here to watch the video.

Note: The Super Bowl LII Host Committee has branded Minnesota as Bold North in promoting our state. That applies to our climate and beyond.

 

Rider in the storm or… January 30, 2018

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DAYS AFTER A MAJOR STORM dumped 16 inches of snow on Faribault, I spotted a motorcycle in the parking lot of a local liquor store. It wasn’t exactly bike riding weather with the temp at around 30 degrees.

 

Days after the storm, a fleet of city snow removal equipment lined up in front of my home as sunset broke.

 

Perhaps this Bold North biker had something to prove. Or maybe not.

 

 

 

I snapped a few photos of the bike with my smartphone, not even noticing the expired tabs and the travel bags until I reviewed the photos later. Hey, I’m not one to stand around outside in cold weather without proper warm attire.

 

 

Once inside Fareway Spirits & More, I mentioned the bike to the clerk. Turns out it had been sitting in the parking lot for days, moved there from the unplowed street (which is now plowed). She wondered if the abandoned motorcycle might be stolen, but had not phoned police. I didn’t either.

Monday evening the bike was still parked in the same spot in the cold and snowy Bold North of Faribault. From all forecasts I’ve seen, the weather in Minnesota won’t be suitable for riding anytime soon, including on Sunday. Forecasters are already predicting the coldest Super Bowl on record with lows of minus 10 – 15 degrees and a high above zero. If we’re lucky.

UPDATE, 7:15 pm, Tuesday, January 30: The bike, still parked in the same lot, is a Yamaha Star, Arkansas license, so reports the husband who stopped to check this evening.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How one little girl put some fun back in my Minnesota winter January 24, 2018

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My granddaughter watches while her grandpa rolls a snowball.

 

AS I’VE AGED, I complain more about Minnesota winters. But I didn’t always dislike this season of cold, snow and ice. I once loved being outdoors in the winter—rolling snowballs in to snowmen, engaging in snowball fights, racing up and down snow piles, sledding, digging caves into snow banks, making snow angels, running across rock-hard snow drifts, ice skating and constructing snow forts. Winter as a child was fun in between doing farm chores.

Even when I had my own three children, winter remained semi fun with some of the same winter activities. But as the kids grew, so did their disinterest in outdoor winter play. It’s been years since I’ve thought about the fun aspect of the months spanning November – April in Minnesota.

But then along came my granddaughter who is now nearing age two. On Saturday Randy and I offered to play with Izzy so her parents could have an afternoon out. My motive was also grandma selfish in wanting some time with this sweet little girl.

 

Ready to head outside into the snow.

 

With temps around 40 degrees, I decided (and Grandpa went along with the idea) it would be a great day to play with Izzy in the snow. After I bundled her into her snowpants, boots, coat, cap and mittens and then got myself ready, we finally headed to the backyard. I’d forgotten how long it takes to get a little one into snow gear.

 

 

Once in the backyard, Randy and I pulled Izzy around on a Lion King sled Randy recently retrieved from the garage rafters. It’s the same sled Isabelle’s mama used as a child.

 

 

While Grandpa rolled snowballs and stacked them into a snowman, I played with Izzy. She trundled in the snow as best she could, occasionally reaching for my hand to assure she stayed upright. When I started throwing snowballs at a tree trunk, she burst into waves of giggles. She may have been laughing at Grandma’s inability to hit the target about 50 percent of the time.

The time outdoors with my granddaughter on a balmy January afternoon in Minnesota put the fun back in winter for me. Oh, the power of a child. Over a grandmother.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So…we got a little snow here in Faribault… January 22, 2018

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My patio and backyard photographed around 4 p.m. Monday when the snow let up for a bit. You can see the snow depth by looking at the table and the vintage lawn chairs near the tree to the left.

 

SNOW HAS BEEN FALLING for more than 15 hours now in Faribault with an unofficial accumulation of 14.5 inches measured on my backyard patio.

 

The heavy snow made for some beautiful scenery.

 

Love these snow-laden branches.

 

Strong winds plastered snow to the side of our house, for awhile completely covering the kitchen window.

 

Coupled with high winds, blizzard conditions continue in the region. The Minnesota Department of Transportation advises no travel along roadways like Interstate 35 from Owatonna, past Faribault to just south of the metro. For awhile today, Rice County pulled its snowplows. My husband’s commute home from Northfield along Minnesota State Highway 3 doubled in time to 45 minutes. I convinced him to leave work early, around 12:30 p.m. Conditions were the worst he’s seen on the road in 34 years of driving to and from Northfield.

 

Randy begins the process of clearing snow from our driveway at 4 p.m. Monday.

 

Now, after three hours of tag team snowblowing and shoveling, we have our driveway and sidewalk cleared and that of a senior neighbor. My back aches and I’m tired. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this much snow in one shot.

 

 

Soon I’ll kick back, watch the evening news for snowfall totals across Minnesota. And then sometime during the middle of the night, I’ll startle to the banging of a snowplow blade on Willow Street or the beep of a city plow backing and clearing the intersection.

 

 

When I awaken Tuesday morning, I’ll separate curtain panels and peer outside to see the driveway apron packed with bladed snow. And the process of clearing snow will start all over again.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling