Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hanging laundry outside on a November morning in Minnesota November 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:19 PM

I'm pretty fanatical about hanging laundry outside to dry, even in freezing temperatures.

There's something beautiful and defying about hanging a fruit-themed vintage tablecloth outside on a November morning in Minnesota.

ALREADY, MY FINGERS are beginning to numb and I am only half way through the first basket of wet laundry.

I reach into the clothes basket, to the very bottom, and pull out a pair of jeans. Then I slide my hand inside the clothespin bag, draw out two clothespins. Strategically, I clip the denim pants onto the line in a spot where the sun shines most intensely.

Then I move on to the next pair of jeans, the heavy towels, the shirts. Reach, grab, clip. Reach, grab, clip. I continue until the basket is emptied.

By now, my fingers are bone-chilling cold, simply brittle appendages attached to my hands. For a moment I question the sanity of hanging laundry outside on a November morning.

Then I hurry inside the kitchen with my empty basket. Warmth envelopes me as I glance at the temperature monitor, which registers at 32.5 degrees, barely above freezing.

An hour later I am outdoors again, the feeling back in my fingers, pinching vintage tablecloths onto the line. Watermelons and flowers on linen, reminders of summer hung out to dry on this brisk autumn morning.

To the east, the brilliant sun radiates through the bare branches of the maple in my backyard. To the west, barren trees stand stark against a blue sky dashed with wisps of white clouds.

Despite the cold that numbs my fingers, this is a beautiful November morning, perfect for hanging clothes on the clothesline.

The bright sunshine aims through the bare maple at the wet laundry.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A flock of skunk turkeys November 29, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:44 PM

A candy corn, caramel, chocolate candy square and a fudge-striped (skunk) cookie are assembled to create a turkey cookie.

“WHAT WOULD YOU like to bring for Thanksgiving dinner?” my sister Lanae asked in an e-mail just weeks before the holiday. She was helping her daughter organize the meal for extended family and we could choose from vegetables, salad, rolls, dessert, all the usual fare.

Soon a second e-mail arrived. “You forgot the most important thing. Turkey cookies,” my oldest daughter, Amber, wrote. She then offered to make the treat.

My mom, who had started the whole turkey cookie tradition, gladly relinquished the task to her granddaughter. “Good!” she declared upon hearing the news of Amber’s volunteerism.

But only days before Thanksgiving, Amber was apparently regretting her impulsive decision.  “…I’m not sure if I’m going to have time to make them….suddenly I have no time and I have to decide what dessert to make. So we’ll see,” she e-mailed me.

“I expect there may be great disappointment if you don’t make turkey cookies, especially since you offered to make them,” I replied.

I figured Amber was probably hoping I would rescue her. But I didn’t.

She found time and showed up to Thanksgiving dinner with a pumpkin dessert and a cake pan full of turkey cookies.

These aren’t just any old cookies and I understood exactly why my mom was so happy to give up turkey cookie making. And I understand exactly why Amber stated quite clearly that she doesn’t intend to make turkey cookies next year. Assembling these turkeys from several candies and a store-bought skunk cookie requires time, patience and some skill.

“A skunk cookie?” you’re probably asking right now. “What’s a skunk cookie?”

Well, you know those fudge-striped shortbread cookies, the ones with the hole in the middle that you can stick on your pinkie? Those would be skunk cookies.

My Grandpa Bode always had those cookies in his cookie box, not cookie jar. And because the cookies are striped like a skunk, they became skunk cookies to me and my siblings. Now our kids call them skunk cookies. So do our cousins and aunts and uncles on my mom’s side. And so do others we’ve convinced to adopt this appropriate name.

Turkey cookies made from skunk cookies. Sound delicious, don’t they?

Amber made a whole flock of skunk turkeys for Thanksgiving. The cookies were attached backwards, my mom said, but then quickly added that she liked them better this way. I think she didn't want her comment misconstrued as her volunteering to make the cookies next year.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Minnesota Prairie Roots’ Friday flowers thank others November 27, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:27 AM

IN THE SPIRIT of Thanksgiving, this week’s Minnesota Prairie Roots’ virtual Friday flowers focus on thankfulness.

Those of you who have been following Friday flowers know that each week I “give” virtual flowers to individuals, businesses or organizations deserving of thanks, in need of encouragement or who are celebrating.

With that said, here are the November 27 recipients of Minnesota Prairie Roots’ flowers:

I photographed these daisies in my yard this summer. They are among my favorite flowers for their simplistic beauty.

My niece, Tara, and her husband, Andy, who bought a house in Champlin several months ago and bravely volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner for extended family. Twenty-one of us gathered for a scrumptious meal, laughter and togetherness. Thanks, Tara and Andy, for having us.

Jerry and Mal Hlady, who spearheaded the 24th annual free community Thanksgiving dinner in Faribault. This year, more than 1,000 meals were served. Without the generous donations of local businesses and individuals and without the many volunteers who peel potatoes, debone turkeys, wash dishes, greet diners, deliver meals and more, this event would not happen. Thank you to everyone involved for giving to others on Thanksgiving.

Keith, a friend whom I’ve known since childhood but haven’t seen in years. An email Keith sent today reminds me why he’s such a wonderful person. Keith shared that he is quite busy caring for his 88-year-old mom, Leona. He writes: “Mom is a GREAT old gal…I am committed to helping her live out her days the very best that she can.” What more could a mother ask for in a son?

The readers of Minnesota Prairie Roots. Thanks for reading my posts and viewing the photos I publish on this blog. I am truly humbled and honored that so many of you have embraced my writing, my passion. My readership continues to steadily grow, and for that I am grateful.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Give thanks November 26, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:31 AM

A Thanksgiving display at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, Minnesota, celebrates the harvest.

A cross incorporated into a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran.


“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

THIS THANKSGIVING, take time to thank God for the many blessings in your life.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In praise of church organists and a friendship rekindled November 25, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:40 AM

Keys on the 114-year-old organ at Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland, Minnesota.

Pipes on the old Immanuel organ.

“SINCE I WAS a tiny girl attending mass with my old dad, crowded into a pew with my many siblings, I have watched the church organist with fascination and the utmost respect. How do they do what they do?”

Yeah, how?

And how do two bloggers, who attended high school together, write on the same topic on the exact same day? That would be me and blogger Beth Johanneck of Richfield.

Last Wednesday, Beth wrote a post, “In Praise of Church Organists,” on her Minnesota Country Mouse blog. That’s her lead in the first paragraph.

I posted “Singing praises at a Faribault hymn fest” on the same day.

Now, what are the chances that, from all the topics we could choose, we would both write about organists on November 18?

Beth was freaked. I wasn’t so much freaked as awed.

Here’s the deal, and I think Beth would agree. Although we were Wabasso High School class of 1974 classmates and shared a locker, we never were close. Friends, yes. Just not friends as in a person you hung around with either during school or after classes.

Following graduation, Beth and I never saw each other except at the occasional class reunion.

But then, several years ago, we reconnected when I wrote a Minnesota Moments magazine article about her grandfather, Arnold Kramer, a folk artist pegged as “Minnesota’s Grandpa Moses.” See http://arnoldkramer.com.

This year I wrote a feature for Midwest Mix Magazine about Beth and her Country Mouse blog. Her blog includes “photos and articles about local sites, attractions, businesses, people, history and all things Minnesota.” Here’s the link to Beth’s blog: http://countrymouse.blogharbor.com/

Beth and I have reconnected in a way that only two people who share a passion can connect. Our shared passions lie in writing and photography and sharing those loves with others through our blogs. Beth has even termed us “folk bloggers.”

So I guess it should come as no surprise that sometimes we choose to write on the same subjects, like organists. I must add, though, that Beth grew up Catholic and I grew up Lutheran.

Despite our lack of closeness as teenagers, I’ve grown to appreciate Beth for her honesty; her quirky sense of humor; her ability to truly “see” the world around her (and often from a unique perspective); her genuine interest in history, art and more; her creative gifts; her care for others; her appreciation of the simple things in life; and so much more. All of these qualities shine in writing that is distinct, humorous, introspective and down-to-earth. Read for yourself.

I only regret that it took three decades for us to rekindle a friendship much deeper than the surface friendship of our teenage years.

Stops on Immanuel's organ.

This majestic vintage pipe organ graces the balcony of Immanuel Lutheran, Courtland, the church home of my maternal ancestors.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Cheers to Hermann the German and his bier November 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:11 AM

When the Hermann Monument was dedicated 112 years ago in New Ulm, August Schell Brewing Company celebrated the occasion with a special beer, Hermann's Brau. This year the brewery brought the beer back.

A close-up image of the beer label, Hermann the German charging into battle on his white horse.

“IM HIMMEL gibt’s kein Bier. Drum trinken wir es hier.”

Any good German worth his or her sauerkraut knows that “In heaven there is no beer. That’s why we drink it here.”

So, good German that I am, I had a beer Saturday evening.

But not just any bier.

I drank Hermann’s Brau, a limited-edition beer from Minnesota’s undeniably most German city, New Ulm. August Schell Brewing Company brewed Hermann’s Brau to commemorate the 2000th anniversary of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in September. Hermann, a German warrior, led that battle and is honored in New Ulm with a towering statue atop a hill.

Since that anniversary celebration, two bottles of this coveted beer have been chilling in my friend Lois’ refrigerator. Lois picked the brew up per my request, to “get me some of that beer when you’re in New Ulm.” But finding Hermann’s Brau took a bit of effort. Lois searched two locations before nabbing two bottles of the precious $3-per-bottle commodity.

Schells produced only 200 cases of the beer. I’m uncertain how many bottles that equals because, well, these bottles hold 22 ounces of beer, enough to fill more than one stein.

So, on Saturday night, Lois and I shared Hermann’s Brau with our husbands, the two Randys.

We complimented our beer with a German meal of brats, potatoes, sauerkraut, pickled beets and warm applesauce. And even though I had not made German potato salad, Lois’ Randy tells me the pre-appetizer apple/potato/cheese/apple cider soup tastes a bit like German potato salad. It does.

As for Hermann’s Brau, we conclude: “This is good.” We’re just occasional beer drinkers, not beer experts.

I send Lois home with her empty beer bottles, even though her Randy questions, “Why do you want to keep those?”

“You won’t be saying that when these bottles are someday worth $1,000,” I laugh, as I toss the bottle caps into a cardboard box with the empty bottles. “I suppose they would be worth more filled with beer.”

Yeah, well, cheers!

A statue of Hermann the German towers above the trees in New Ulm.

For more information about Hermann the German, click here: http://hermannmonument.com. Also check out http://schellsbrewery.com and http://newulm.com. Be sure to read my September 15 post, “What about this Hermann the German in New Ulm?”

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Pull out the pistol and good china for a Civil War era history lesson November 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:16 AM

An 1840 Philadelphia Derringer, like the pistol used to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln.

A 1909 postcard celebrates Abraham Lincoln's February 12, 1809, birth.

THE PISTOL WEIGHS HEAVY in my hand. Cold metal and wood against warm flesh nestled in my palm. I am surprised, really, by the weight and smallness of this curved 1840 Philadelphia Derringer, which is exactly like the deadly weapon John Wilkes Booth fired at President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865.

I have not come here this Thursday night expecting to handle a Derringer. Instead, I expect to view original slave documents from the South during the November meeting of the Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable in Faribault. I am a member of the interested public, not of the Roundtable.

The evening’s presenter, however, left the slave documents at home. I am disappointed. But only momentarily. He brings instead a whole tote full of interesting Lincoln-related memorabilia.

Roger—not his real name because he looks directly at me and requests anonymity—is a collector. Big-time. He collects guns, coins, autographs (like an original George Washington signature valued today at $35,000 – $40,000), stamps, photos, Civil War era postcards, Civil War uniform buttons and more.

He’s been collecting for 25 years, not with the thought of getting rich from his collection, Roger says, but because he “likes it.” That passion is clear to me as Roger, who emphasizes he’s not a historian, rattles off historical information that I’ve long forgotten, or perhaps never learned.

Civil War uniform buttons.

Lincoln, he claims, had a bone disease that would have killed him before his term ended. A month before his assassination, the President had recurring visions that someone would be killed.  Roger shows off the 1840 Derringer, tells us that shot at a distance, this pistol only would sting like a BB gun. But at close range, the weapon proves deadly.

Later, when I pick up the Derringer, I feel for the first time the weight of John Wilkes Booth’s terrible act, something I’ve never experienced by reading a history book.

That sense of touching history pervades this evening. I imagine the soldiers who fought in the bloody battles of the Civil War as I admire uniform buttons secured in a case. I wonder about the people who sent the colorful vintage postcards now tucked inside protective plastic sleeves. I ponder Lincoln’s Presidency as I study the original photos of Lincoln in Roger’s collection. I consider the demons that tormented Mary Todd Lincoln as I photograph replica china that she insisted on for the White House.

I am surprised at what I have learned in just two short hours.

And I am surprised at the intensity, knowledge and devotion the dozen or so gathered here clearly possess regarding the Civil War. Among them is 11-year-old Brandon, a self-proclaimed “history freak.” The sixth grader has come here from Owatonna with his mom, who says she’s simply the chauffeur for a son obsessed with the Civil War. But she says that in a good way.

Brandon’s interest in the Civil War traces back to his great, great, great grandfather, who served in the Union Army. Today Brandon role-plays in First Regiment Minnesota Volunteer Infantry re-enactments. He’s the fifer, still learning, he says, to play the small flute-like instrument. He’s been to Gettysburg and Harpers Ferry and helps teach sixth graders about the Civil War. Learning about “what the soldiers went through” draws him into Civil War history. He hopes to someday become a history teacher and a farmer.

The future educator will practice his teaching skills when he talks about visiting Civil War battlefields at the February 18, 2010, Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting. I hope to be there, for I have much to learn.

For more information about the CVCWR, contact Dan Peterson at (507) 332-8250.

An original photo of Abraham Lincoln in Roger's collection. He also has prints of originals.

Another of Roger's postcards honoring Lincoln.

A replica of Mary Todd Lincoln's White House china.

More Civil War uniform buttons and insignias.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Birthday wishes and flowers from Minnesota Prairie Roots November 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:20 AM

TODAY MARKS my fourth Friday of presenting virtual flowers to those deserving of recognition, gratitude, celebration or encouragement.

All week I am considering possible names for this list. It’s been a good thing for me, focusing on others and then, through this giving of virtual Friday flowers, sharing my care, thanks or congratulations.

Try this approach in your life. Thinking about others first, before self, is good for the soul.

So…, here are the recipients of November 20 virtual Friday flowers from Minnesota Prairie Roots:

Windowbox flowers photographed at Munsinger Garden along the Mississippi River in St. Cloud are this week's featured Minnesota Prairie Roots Friday flowers.

My daughter, Miranda, who celebrated her 22nd birthday earlier this week. Miranda is a free-spirited, intelligent, kind-hearted, Spanish-speaking (English too) Christian woman who loves to dance salsa, yearns to return to Argentina (where she lived part of last year), and works hard at whatever she does. When Miranda sets her mind to do something, she will accomplish it. In addition to those admirable qualities, she’s also a gifted writer. I especially like that Miranda still allows me to call her Tib, after curly-haired Tib in Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy book series. Feliz cumpleaños, Miranda! I love you.

Virgil, a friend I deeply respect and value for his caring ways, his array of knowledge, his generosity, his strong faith and his appreciation for the world God has created. He has been a blessing to me and my family and to many, many others.

My friend, Billie Jo, whose daughter, Nevaeh (that’s “heaven” spelled backwards), turned three the same day my daughter turned 22. Billie Jo is one of those people you just love to be around because of her joyfulness. She’s funny, upbeat, friendly, kind, creative and more. Among other things, Billie Jo coordinates the monthly Family Game Night at our church. If you look in our church directory, you’ll see Billie Jo and her family photographed in seasonal headwear like bunny ears and a Santa cap. That’s so “Billie Jo” to show her creative side in a conservative Lutheran church directory.

Artificial roses photographed at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines craft show near Dundas in September.

NEXT, I want to follow up on a virtual Friday flowers bouquet that I gave to 85-year-old Bob last week. I’d only met Bob once and didn’t even know his last name. Still, the sincere appreciation he showed for the local public library made him worthy of Friday flowers. I wanted to tell Bob about the honor I bestowed upon him. So I tracked him down, at the library. I handed Bob a print-out of my November 13 Friday flowers post. He thanked me several times before carefully folding the paper and placing it inside his shirt pocket. In that brief exchange, I felt as if Bob had just given me a dozen roses.

FINALLY, CONSIDER SUBMITTING your nominations to me for virtual Friday Flowers. I’m always seeking deserving recipients. Just e-mail me or submit a name via a comment and I will consider your request. Weekly deadline is Wednesday.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


This is no 5-star rodent hotel November 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:52 AM

"The Thing" may be just the answer to my rodent problem. I photographed this trap at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engine Show in September.

EVERY TIME I WASH clothes these days, I approach the task with trepidation.

It’s not that the job has become difficult, burdensome or more time-consuming. It’s simply that I have guests who don’t like to be disturbed. Let me explain.

My laundry room lies in the basement of our old house, adjoining the hideous red-carpeted, paneled room that is supposed to be the family rec room. Rather, this vintage 70s space has become a dumping spot for just about anything—long-forgotten toys, card tables and folding chairs, a punch bowl from my mom, an old cedar chest, winter boots. Really, it’s a cluttered mess best kept behind closed doors.

No one in their right mind would recreate here.

Except rodents.

Each fall, they pack their bags and head for warmer climates. What Arizona is to snowbirds, my basement is to mice.

Two weeks ago the first of the expected guests arrived. My husband, Randy, already had laid out welcoming mats complete with complimentary snacks.

The first guest checked in the first night and was promptly evicted the next morning.

Since then we’ve sent two more snowbird mice packing to the Great Beyond.

The problem lies in the fact that I frequent the laundry room four times weekly, minimum.  These unwelcome guests seem not to care about me as they wander freely between the unpleasant, cobweb-filled laundry/furnace room (which opens to crawl spaces) and the rec/storage room.

Most days I can pretend the rodents aren’t there enjoying the amenities of their luxuriously-appointed suite. I trick myself into believing that, if I can’t see the mice, they must have checked out.

Ha. Who am I fooling?

I need only pull open the laundry room door for a reminder that these snowbirds consider our basement comparable to any five-star hotel. A welcoming mat lies only feet from the washing machine and inches from the dryer. Sometimes I’ll find a mouse lounging there.

But typically Randy discovers these immobile vacationers per my routine morning request that he check on our guests. (Actually, I ask, “Did you check the traps?”)

He does a fine job of handling these unwanted rodents and for that I am grateful.

But, I would be an even more thankful wife if Randy would do the laundry until May, when the mice check out for a few months and head up north to the cabin, or wherever they go.


(Because of past encounters with mice that included a dead mouse floating in a crockpot, a mouse rummaging through a silverware drawer and a mouse threatening me in the confines of a bathroom when I was six months pregnant, I am understandably terrified of mice. These incidents happened in separate Minnesota locations over a span of years and are only a sampling of my woeful rodent tales.)

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Singing praises at a Faribault hymn fest November 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:09 AM

Organ pipes at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault.

Trinity's stained glass window depicting the Resurrection of Christ.

“Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love; Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee opening to the sun above,” we sing. Our voices unfold joyously, responding to the uplifting music of the pipe organ as the day slips away.

Inside the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, sunlight softens the patches of green, brown, yellow and rose in the old stained glass window that depicts Jesus’ resurrection. As I sing, I watch the colors transform from vivid to muted shades.

And I feel my spirit soar as the music fills my soul. The words embrace, surround, comfort, stir, inspire. I am energized, overcome with emotion at the sheer power and praise in the words I am voicing.

I keep a watchful eye on the man at the organ, Dr. Jeffrey E. Burkart of Concordia University, St Paul. Burkhart plays with a passion unequaled, his whole body leaning into the music, his hand ending songs in a dramatic flair. He works the keys, the pedals, playing this organ with every bit of his being.

The congregation responds with voices raised in heavenly praise that fills this sanctuary.

Later, Burkart moves to the grand piano. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth,” we sing, our voices clear and concise, matching the sharpness of the piano.

Soon he is back at the organ and we are singing my favorite hymn, Beautiful Savior. I hold my hymnbook open before me, but I don’t glance at the words I have known since childhood. “Beautiful Savior, King of creation, Son of God and Son of Man,” I sing.

I am looking now to the cross at the front of the church. And I am thinking of my wedding day 27 years ago, when my husband and I stood before the altar of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta. “Truly I’d love thee, truly I’d serve thee, light of my soul, my joy, my crown,” we sang in unison.

In this moment, on this November day, at this Festival of Hymns, I am celebrating the blessings God has bestowed upon me, expressing my thanks in joyful song.

“Now thank we all our God with hearts and hands and voices…”

The magnificent pipe organ at Trinity Lutheran.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling