Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A near head-on collision along Minnesota Highway 60 January 31, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:26 PM

WE’RE HALF WAY BETWEEN Waterville and Morristown when the near-accident happens.

Suddenly, a car darts around the truck behind us and aligns our vehicle. Then, headlights appear, cresting the hill. The car zooming past us in the “No passing” zone and the oncoming vehicle are aimed in a head-on collision course.

My husband hits the brakes. The truck driver behind us hits the brakes. The approaching motorist swerves partially onto the shoulder.

Yet, the passing driver still attempts to overtake a third vehicle, to beat the oncoming vehicle. But, at the last second, the offender hits the brakes, backs off and moves into the correct lane.

It all happens so quickly. Seconds earlier we are driving home from an evening with friends in Mankato, albeit following a car traveling under the speed limit. But on this dangerous, hilly, curvy stretch of Minnesota Highway 60, there are few places to pass. So we bide our time. We’ll get home, just a bit later than planned.

Then this driver, this crazy, crazy driver, tries to pass three vehicles, including ours, while driving up a hill.

Even my husband, who never gets rattled about anything, admits “that was close.”

Later, as I reflect on this, I’m mad—angry that a reckless, speeding, hurried driver would have such disregard for the drivers and passengers in four other vehicles.

I could almost read the newspaper headlines: Five-vehicle accident kills FILL IN THE NUMBER HERE and seriously injures FILL IN THE NUMBER HERE.

I have one message for this driver: You may not care about your life, but when you get behind the wheel of your car, it’s not all about you.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Greg Budig’s latest book embraces winter’s quiet beauty January 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:22 AM

Greg Budig's newest book, Still (A Winter's Journey), published by Stemmer House Publishers.

IF SUB-ZERO TEMPS and too much ice and snow have afflicted you with a bad case of cabin fever, consider an antidote.

And, no, I’m not suggesting an escape to a warmer climate.

Rather, I recommend a walk through the snow, via St. Cloud author and illustrator Greg Budig’s latest children’s picture book, Still (A Winter’s Journey). Budig’s reflection on winter, in poetic words and magical illustrations, will surely lift your spirits.

A native of Morris, Budig certainly understands the weariness of winter as well as any Minnesotan. But he has chosen, in Still, to focus on the appreciative, quiet beauty of the season.

Consider these phrases: “It (snow) sifted through the thin fingered branches of the dark winter trees.” Or: “The thick bellied clouds brushed the round backed hills as they marched over the slowly dissolving horizon.” Budig’s descriptive word choices paint strong imagery of a snowy winter wonderland.

His dreamy landscape paintings, done in acrylic on watercolor paper, further enhance the experience by visually placing the reader in the field, in the woods, along the river bank, imprinting footsteps upon the freshly-fallen snow.

Budig drew his inspiration “from cherished memories of going on long walks on beautifully snowy days,” he says. “I remember the feeling of solitude and peace I had on these walks, the world seemed different under a blanket of fresh snow.”

And once you read Still (A Winter’s Journey), you too will sense that peace, which Budig so successfully transfers from memory onto paper.

For more information about Budig; Still (A Winter’s Journey); his first children’s picture book, I Hear the Wind; and his other artwork, go to www.gregbudig.com.

"...the snow covered each house and garden and filled in the sidewalk that leads to my front door."

"...the flutter of the feeder bound waltzing chickadees..."

"...down by the river made new."

"Our startled eyes locked for only a moment before she melted ghostlike into the cover of the falling snow."

"As if in a dream, I walked down the branch covered pathway and into the nearby woods."

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Illustrations and quoted Still text © Copyright 2009 Greg Budig


An average Minnesotan reacts to President Obama’s speech January 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:45 AM

President Barack Obama works the crowd at a health care reform rally at the Target Center in Minneapolis in September.

“YOU’RE TAKING NOTES?” he asks upon awakening from a catnap.

President Barack Obama’s televised speech apparently fails to interest my husband as much as me. He’s been snoozing on our reclining couch while the President talks. I suppose I can’t blame Randy for catching a few zzzzs. He rises early and works long, hard days as an automotive machinist.

But, in all truthfulness, I might be napping too if not for the note-taking. Jotting down keys points and memorable comments from Obama’s State of the Union address Wednesday night keeps me focused and alert.

And there’s certainly plenty of material to fill several notebook pages. With talk of the economy, the financial system, health care reform, education, war, tax breaks and tax credits, jobs, clean energy, a proposed freeze in discretionary government spending, the need for the Democrats and Republicans to get along and much more, the President has a lot on his plate.

I wonder, as I listen, how this leader will accomplish everything he lays out before the American people.

I don’t pretend to know or understand all of the proposals out there to make ours a stronger, better nation, both domestically and globally. Obama’s plans seem ambitious. He wants to double American exports within the next five years. He wants to create jobs, build safe, clean nuclear power plants, develop a health care reform plan that decreases premiums and stops insurance company abuses…

For more than an hour, I listen to the President’s ideas. How much is spoken in sincerity and how much is rhetoric? And always, nagging at the back of my mind, the question, “Who’s going to pay for this?”

Despite my concerns and the questions that linger, I give the President credit for tackling the problems that face our nation. He seems fearless and undaunted.

He is certainly, undoubtedly, an excellent communicator. Strong. Steady. Confident. Persuasive. He understands the power of cultivated word choices.

As a crafter of language, I too choose words carefully, desiring to find just the right phrases to convey a message, a thought, an idea.

That said, I selected five State of the Union Presidential quotes that I deem most memorable, followed by my comments:

“We all hated the bank bail out. It was about as popular as a root canal.” You’re right on that, Mr. President.

“Let’s try common sense…a novel concept.” I agree, Mr. President. Common sense in government would be a fine approach to problem solving.

“The people still expect us to solve problems and not run for the hills.” Mr. Obama, that’s certainly an interesting image you paint of Democrats high-tailing it for the hills.

“We (elected officials) are here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions.” AMEN, Mr. President.

“We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize the moment…” Go team, go! You’re right, Mr. Obama. No one likes a quitter.

President Barack Obama appears in Minneapolis in September 2009.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of Amber Helbling


Stranded at Westbrook-Walnut Grove Elementary School during a Minnesota blizzard, a teacher’s perspective January 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:05 AM

I took this photo of a "Welcome to Walnut Grove" sign some five-plus years ago. The small prairie town draws Laura Ingalls Wilder fans here in the summer months.

I discovered these unique street signs in downtown Walnut Grove several years ago.

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN a blizzard strands 100 students and staff overnight in a rural southwestern Minnesota school?

Well, I got an insider’s view from my nephew Adam, a teacher at Westbrook-Walnut Grove Elementary School, and among those hunkered down at the school Monday into Tuesday morning.

In answer to my e-mail inquiry, Adam reflects on his experience as “neat and interesting.” That isn’t exactly the response I expect from a 25-year-old who says, “I slept in my room, on the floor, in my chair, on the floor, in my chair. I didn’t get much sleep!”

But Adam’s positive attitude, on second thought, doesn’t surprise me as I read further into his e-mail and consider how small-town residents pull together in times of need.

And everyone certainly worked together in Walnut Grove, the Redwood County community best known as the childhood home of author Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Folks pitched in by bringing blankets and snacks to school or by taking extra children into their homes. Businesses helped by finding movies for the kids and by also donating snacks.

The generosity of Walnut Grove’s 625 residents and businesses speaks to the spirit of these strong prairie people who, on Monday into Tuesday, found themselves in the middle of an old-fashioned raging blizzard, much like those chronicled in Wilder’s books.

“We were told we were getting out at like 10 (Monday morning), but when the weather was so bad the buses couldn’t leave, we just went back to having class,” Adam says. “I think we all kind of accepted that we wouldn’t be going anywhere.”

At day’s end, Walnut Grove “town kids” were bused home, with my nephew riding along to check that a parent or sibling was home to care for the young students. “That helped get a few kids home, but there were still a lot at the school,” Adam says.

By a lot, he means a few preschoolers and then many kindergartners through sixth graders—a total of about 100 students—and staff stuck at WWG Elementary.

So, naturally, I wondered, how did staff keep 100 students busy and happy?

Well, Adam tells me, kids played dodge ball and basketball in the gym. Some colored in the cafeteria while others watched a movie shown on a projector. Still others played games on the computer. “It seemed like the kids always had something to do,” he says.

My nephew credits the cooks with serving a delicious “mix of this and that” supper which included kid-friendly foods like mac and cheese, hot dogs and that Minnesota standby, Tator Tot Hotdish. They also munched on popcorn and other snacks and, Tuesday morning, were offered cereal, fruit, cheese and juice for breakfast.

First, though, students had to get through the night. For the younger students, that meant sleeping in classrooms, while third through sixth graders slept on wrestling mats in the wrestling room. Adam assures me that townsfolk brought plenty of blankets to go around.

Once the kids were asleep—and Adam didn’t tell me when that may have been—teachers had lots of time to talk. The whole experience, he reflects, was “a good time to bond with other teachers and staff members.” That’s my nephew with his always-positive attitude.

But staff members weren’t the only ones bonding. Adam observes: “I think that it was just nice to see the older kids helping take care of and have fun with the younger students.”

Around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, when winds had subsided and travel was deemed safe, buses finally departed Westbrook-Walnut Grove Elementary School, more than 24 hours after students arrived there for Monday classes.

That ended one long sleep-over for my tired nephew-teacher. Yet, Adam concludes, “Honestly, I thought the experience was neat and interesting.”

The prairie near Walnut Grove is especially beautiful in the summer. I took this photo of prairie flowers at the Laura Ingalls Wilder dug-out site north of Walnut Grove.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Writing greeting card verses, from the heart January 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:37 AM

EVEN AFTER DECADES of writing, I still thrill in seeing my work in print. It’s validating, I suppose, to know that others appreciate my creativity.

So when the UPS driver recently delivered a package from Warner Press, I could hardly wait to rip it open. Inside were three collections of greeting cards that include my latest published verses.

A few years ago I entered this writing genre after checking out Writer’s Market and Writer’s Handbook from the public library. I was searching for new markets and figured I could write greeting card verses.

Since then, I’ve sold verses to Warner, Gallant Greetings and DaySpring, owned by Hallmark.

This venture into composing greeting card verses has proven more difficult than anticipated. The challenge lies in creating original verses, which requires inspiration, lots of thought and just plain hard work.

But I’m up to the challenge, and the editors at Warner Press, Inc., an Indiana-based Christian publishing company, have especially embraced my writing. Warner truly offers a perfect fit for me, my faith and my approach to the greeting card market. My writing comes from the heart as I often tap into my personal experiences or those of others to compose verses.

Apparently that’s working. Warner has purchased verses from me that fall primarily into the encouragement, get well and sympathy categories. The latest boxed sets include Outlooks of Inspiration, Groves of Compassion and Peaceful Reflections. Check them out under “Cards and Stationery” at http://warnerpress.org.

Each of these boxed card collections from Warner Press includes a greeting card verse that I wrote.

Warner offers one personal touch that really appeals to me as a writer. On the back of each greeting card, the company credits the card designer and the author. So if you order any of the above boxed cards, you’ll find my name on the back of a single card in each batch. That’s a nice touch which reflects positively on the spirit of graciousness I’ve discovered in working with Warner Press editors.

The complimentary cards sent to writers upon printing also convey Warner’s gratitude.

And believe me, writers value appreciative editors.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


(If you’re considering submitting verses to greeting card companies, be aware that breaking into the market has become increasingly difficult. Some companies will work only with writers who have already published with them. Others have turned to in-house staff. If you do submit, follow guidelines and submission time frames. Write with originality and from your heart.)


The faces of Minnesota Vikings quarterback “Brett Favre” January 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:40 AM

MY FRIEND LOIS e-mailed this message and these photos of her two-month-old grandson, Kaleb, following the Minnesota Vikings’ loss to the New Orleans Saints:

“A true Vikings fan…

"Go, Vikings!"

before the game

"Not again!"

and after the Championship game.”

Need we say more?


(Thanks, Lois, for sharing these adorable photos of Kaleb, son of Mike and Carmen.)

Copyright 2010 Minnesota Prairie Roots


Wintry weather means sleeping at school for some Westbrook-Walnut Grove students January 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:11 PM

WHEN I WROTE ABOUT WEATHER in southwestern Minnesota earlier this morning, I had no idea a blizzard raged in that part of the state.

But then, around noon, I heard via news reports just how difficult travel and weather conditions are out west. My mom confirmed that in a late afternoon phone call. She lives in Vesta and, at times, can’t see the main drag a block from her house due to blowing snow. This is the worst conditions have been all winter, she says.

Snow gates have been placed across highways with no travel allowed. There have been numerous accidents.

Students from Westbrook-Walnut Grove, my mom tells me, were stranded at school. According to news reports I later read, the district attempted to bus students home already at 10:30 a.m. But by then, winds had increased, reducing visibility. Some parents picked up their kids, while other students went to “snow homes.”

For those of you not privy to the definition of a “snow home,” it’s a designated home where students go should they become stranded in town during a winter storm.

Those kids without a “snow home” are sleeping overnight at district school buildings in Westbrook and Walnut Grove, 15 miles apart.

The school cafeteria is well-stocked, wrestling mats have been pulled out and district staff are spending the night to comfort and plan activities for the stranded students, according to information from KLGR radio in Redwood Falls.

I’m just wondering if my nephew Adam, a Walnut Grove teacher, is among those attending the slumber party.

Near Redwood Falls, my cousin Sandy is wondering if her husband, Bill, can get to their rental farm, about five miles away, around midnight to check on the cattle. He’s hoping the wind dies down by then.

I e-mailed and suggested Bill tie a rope to his truck so that if he becomes lost in the blizzard, he can track the rope back home. I was only half kidding.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Winter on the wind-swept southwestern Minnesota prairie

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:17 AM

Minnesota Highway 30 in southwestern Minnesota.

A FEW WEEKS AGO, when cold and snow gripped the North Star state like a vise, I sought photos and stories from southwestern Minnesota, where residents face often brutal weather conditions on the wind-swept prairie.

I grew up there and understand how even an inch of snow, combined with strong winds, can become an instant blizzard.

My solicitation elicited only three responses. I expect most of those prairie folks were just too busy digging out from the latest snowfall. Or perhaps they see this type of weather as a winter norm and go about their day-to-day lives without much thought to another snowstorm and more school closings.

So for the trio who responded to my inquiry, thank you. And for those of you who live elsewhere in Minnesota, or elsewhere in the country, here’s a peak at a southwestern Minnesota winter, from those who call the prairie home.

“We just got back from babysitting in Fargo this weekend and we actually have it worse than Fargo…need anything more be said?” my friend Jan writes. She lives near Lucan, population 220, in Redwood County.

Jan then tells how she, her mother-in-law and daughter got stuck in the snow in a 4-wheel drive Armada. “I had to walk close to a mile for help (3 women in the vehicle who own cell phones but none of us had them along…yes tell me how stupid that is!),” Jan shares. “The farmer who helped us had to buck snow to get to the vehicle before he could pull us out!”

I responded to Jan with a chastising e-mail. You bet I did. Didn’t she, after all, invite such a reaction with her “tell me how stupid that is!” comment?

Then there’s Julie, also from Lucan, who got out of Dodge before a winter storm struck. While Julie cuddled her new grandson in Minneapolis, her husband Bob was back home on the prairie. “When I got home on Friday, my husband had spent 4.5 hours digging out and finished off with an hour this morning. Enough already!!” Julie writes.

Icicles formed during a period of snow and frigid temps at the entrance to Downtown Estates in Springfield. Some of the icicles had been removed before Marlys snapped this image in her community.

A bit to the east in Springfield, population 2,200, in Brown County, Marlys took a more optimistic approach to winter by e-mailing photos of winter’s beauty. She snapped images of the iced-in Downtown Estates and the Cottonwood River rest area. “Sure was a beautiful day today,” Marlys writes. If I recall correctly, her January 10 e-mail marked the first relatively “warm” day after a week or more of double-digit, sub-zero temperatures.

Snow buries benches at the Cottonwood River rest area.

If you have some harrowing or entertaining winter stories to share, no matter where you live, I’d like to hear them. But be forewarned, I consider abandoning a snow-entrenched vehicle dangerous and worthy of a lecture.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Springfield photos courtesy of Marlys Vanderwerf


Two Minnesota legends: Vikings and Lakemaids January 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:07 PM

Icy cold beer served up in a Minnesota Vikings mug.

ALL AFTERNOON, I’VE BEEN waiting for my husband to pour his first gotta-have-a-beer-cause-I’m-watching-football beer of the day.

Finally, at 4:06 p.m. Minnesota time, he hollers from the kitchen, asks if I want some cheese and crackers. I do. So I head for the snacks.

“Oh, good, I’ve been waiting for you to have a beer,” I say as I spot the brew in his frosty Minnesota Vikings mug. “I want to take a picture. I wish we had some good light in here.”

“Now what the heck is she going to do?” I almost can hear him thinking.

I look towards the backyard and all of that snow. “Can I take your mug outside?” I ask and grab before he answers. Outside, I stick the mug atop a snowbank. I’m aiming to show that it’s 32 degrees here in Minnesota and 68 degrees in balmy New Orleans.

Soon I’m back inside working at my computer, wondering what, exactly, to write other than “Cheers to the Vikings!”

“What kind of beer are you drinking?” I ask.

“Miss Crappie,” he says, and then suggests that I take a picture of the Lakemaid Beer bottle, with the Miss Crappie label, next to the Vikings mug. “They’re two legends.”

Two legends: Lakemaids and Vikings

I like his idea, so I’m back outside with my camera, the empty Lakemaid Beer bottle and a now nearly-empty Minnesota Vikings beer mug. I set both in the snow—the bottle signifying the legend of the freshwater mermaids and the beer signifying the legend of the Vikings. That’s as in Minnesota Vikings, the sports team, not those Scandinavian Vikings.

Now, I think I’ll go have some of that cheese and crackers and maybe a glass of wine before kick-off.

Go, Vikings!

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The poetry of hoarfrost January 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:51 AM

AWAKENING TO A MORNING of hoarfrost equates entering an enchanting, iced world of spectacular winter beauty.

Sharp ice crystals snuggle barren tree branches.

The world, uncolored, lies naked and exposed.

Dainty frost trims railings in bridal white lace.

Even though this is morning, the dreary, grey sky speaks of evening, of Robert Frost stopping by the woods.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(I shot these hoarfrost images earlier this week at my Faribault home.)