Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Watching my first-ever hockey game as the Shattuck Sabres face off with the Breck Mustangs January 22, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:36 PM

A Shattuck-St. Mary's School hockey booklet details the school's hockey program, past and present.

“WATCH FOR FLYING PUCKS,” the words imprinted on the plexiglass warn repeatedly.

“Do we really have to watch for flying hockey pucks?” I ask, settling onto a wooden bench at the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School ice arena in Faribault. This is my first-ever hockey game and I hadn’t thought about the possibility of flying missiles.

My husband confirms that pucks do, indeed, sail into the crowd on occasion.

“Would it be safer to sit more towards the middle?” I ask. So we move up and over, parking ourselves on a warm cement bench/step directly behind four Breck School fans.

This number one ranked Minnesota Class A hockey team has come to play the Sabres, notably one of the best high school hockey teams in the country. According to a hockey booklet I picked up Thursday evening, “Shattuck-St. Mary’s School is to high school hockey what Harvard is to law school.” That quote comes from Sports Illustrated magazine.

The Shattuck team proves itself again Thursday, winning 4 to 1 with 35 shots on goal compared to the Mustangs’ 22.

Not that I know much about hockey. Through-out the game, I pepper my husband with questions. After awhile, I stop trying to figure it all out, choosing instead to simply track the whizzing puck.

I begin to understand, though, those “WATCH FOR FLYING PUCKS” warnings as the disk tumbles and slides, often uncontrollably, across the ice, through the air, once hitting a high-hung ceiling light. And then, in the second period, just like that, the puck zooms over the plexiglass toward the crowd, 15 feet away, near where we had first seated ourselves.

OK, then. This game is not for sissy fans.

The intensity with which attendees embrace this competition surprises me. Unhappy with a missed transgression, a 30-something Breck fan seated near me and dressed impeccably in pinstripe pants, shiny black dress shoes and a black wool coat, yells at the ref. He’s not alone. An entire section of fans voice their discord. I have no idea why they are unhappy.

“Go, go, go!” the man urges as the Mustangs sail down the ice towards their net.

As for me, I sit there in my jeans, unfashionable heavy duty snow boots, wool coat and fleece blanket not taking any of this too seriously. I’m more interested in listening to the clash of hockey sticks, the bang of bodies against plexiglass, the triumphant blast of a horn when the Sabres score.

I’m more interested in observing hockey players piling atop each other like Pick up sticks, in watching a helmet and glove fly onto the ice, in noticing a player’s surprise when the puck sneaks inside his uniform.

The aggressiveness on the rink doesn’t escape me. “They’re being mean to each other. Shouldn’t that be a penalty?” I ask as players tangle in what looks more like a wrestling match than a hockey game.

My husband laughs, tells me the game would never finish if every such interaction was deemed a penalty. But I notice the Sabres players go to the penalty box a lot more than the Mustangs.

So the evening goes…my first ever-attended hockey game. As we leave, my husband chats with the Breck fan who sat directly in front of me. He’s not disappointed, seems happy in fact that his nephew’s team has scored against the Sabres.

As we walk through the lobby, I note the hockey uniforms encased and dangling from the ceiling. These are, my husband enlightens me, jerseys of Shattuck players who went on to play for pro teams like the New Jersey Devils, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The number of pro uniforms impresses me.

But then I recall the sign plastered onto the side of the zamboni: “Turn your dreams into goals.”

The booklet includes a list of 36 former Shattuck hockey players who became National Hockey League draft picks. Recognize any names?

Text © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Butterscotch pudding, a favorite comfort food for a winter weary Minnesotan January 21, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:44 AM

IT’S AN HOUR BEFORE SUPPER and I should be making something healthy for my family, maybe pulling together a salad, baked potatoes and broiled fish.

But instead, I am cooking a mixture of brown sugar, cornstarch, salt, milk and egg yolks into butterscotch pudding. I need comfort food, not a well-balanced meal.

As I scrape a wooden spoon across the bottom of a heavy saucepan, I listen to the weather report on the radio. “A wintry mix of freezing rain and sleet is moving into the area…” the DJ warns.

I need comfort food. I need butterscotch pudding.

Soon the liquid thickens. I stir faster, swirling the wooden spoon in wicked circles through the pudding.

Tiny volcanoes erupt across the surface when the pudding reaches the boiling point. I stir harder, faster, chasing away splats that spew toward me.

I admire the inviting maple color, wonder how this hue would look on my living room walls. I stir some more and breathe in the sweet scent of brown sugar.

Stirring butter and vanilla into butterscotch pudding.

Then I turn off the heat, add two tablespoons of butter and a teaspoon of vanilla. They puddle on the surface until I mix the two into the creamy pudding. The color morphs from maple to a warm, golden hue.

I pour the pudding into three bowls, not the suggested four, although I briefly ponder hiding away a fourth serving.

“A wintry mix of freezing rain and sleet is moving into the area…” the DJ drones between songs.

I need comfort food. I need butterscotch pudding.

An ultimate comfort food, butterscotch pudding.


2/3 cup brown sugar, packed

1/8 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. cornstarch

2 cups milk

2 egg yolks, slightly beaten

2 Tbsp. softened butter

1 tsp. vanilla

Blend brown sugar, salt and cornstarch in a 2-quart saucepan. Combine milk and egg yolks; gradually stir into sugar mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir for one minute. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into dessert dishes. Cool slightly and chill, or serve warm. Serves 4.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A journey to Pandora, or, in other words, we see the blockbuster movie Avatar January 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:44 AM

FOR WEEKS, THE TEENAGER in the family asked, cajoled, pleaded, demanded, whined and begged to see the movie Avatar at the Minnesota Zoo IMAX Theatre in Apple Valley.

For weeks, the parents in the family resisted, citing the expense–$15 per ticket, plus costs for parking, popcorn and gas. Why, they asked, couldn’t he just settle for viewing the movie in Faribault or Owatonna? Truth be told, the parents really didn’t want to see a movie that didn’t interest them.

The son persisted, though, insisting on the eight-story IMAX screen experience.

But the parents steadfastly refused his demands and suggested a compromise. They would take him, they said, to the Lakeville Theatre, where he could see the movie in 3-D.

The son, however, was unwilling to negotiate as he continued to lobby for the IMAX.

The two sides had apparently reached a stalemate. But the parents, being the parents, laid their final offer on the table: See the movie in Faribault, Owatonna or Lakeville, or forget it.

So Sunday afternoon, the trio traveled to Lakeville for the discounted $8.75 matinee. There they donned 3-D glasses and were transported to the imaginary Pandora as they munched on popcorn.

Occasionally, the mom flinched, unnerved by swords and other objects seemingly thrust at her face. Two seats away, she imagined her son rolling his eyes at her reaction.

But as the movie progressed, the parents, much to their surprise, became immersed in the adventure fantasy that focuses on the conflict between the sky people (earthlings) and the native humanoids of Pandora.

The plot included a love story for the mom, adventure for the dad and plenty of sci-fi fantasy for the teenager.

It seems that they all were happy, although the mom complained a bit about the two-hour and 40-minute film length. That, declared the dad, did not surprise him since James Cameron, director of Titanic, also directed Avatar.

Ah, thought the mom, as she recalled her struggle to sit through that lengthy disaster film.

On the ride home, the parents tried to discuss the movie with their teenager. But he only reiterated how Avatar would have been so much better had they viewed it on the towering IMAX screen.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Who’s the crazy one, grilling atop a snowbank in 20-degree temps? January 19, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:53 AM

The Weber grill is fired up and ready to go atop the snow on a cold January night in Minnesota.

My husband dresses warmly to haul the Weber from a corner of the patio onto the top of the patio snowbank and then light the charcoal.

HE HEAVES THE WEBER, maneuvering the black orb firmly into place atop the snow pile on our patio.

I’m there, safely-footed on the back steps snapping photos when he lights the charcoal inside the snow-locked grill.

“You’re crazy, woman,” he teases.

I think he’s the crazy one, grilling here on three feet of hard-packed snow on a Sunday evening in 26-degree temperatures. But I keep quiet. I can already taste the Greek-seasoned pork kabobs and the savory, butter-laced, sliced potatoes.

Grilling during a Minnesota winter is nothing new for my husband. But grilling on top of a snow pile is certainly a first. Typically, he shovels the snow from the patio. This year, however, is different given two 12-inch snowfalls, many several-inch snowfalls and heaps of snow shoveled off the house and garage roofs onto the patio. Clearing snow from the patio simply has taken last priority over cleared driveway, sidewalks and roofs.

So Randy is grilling with his Weber upon this slippery snow mound.

And we are reminiscing, remembering the December he cooked a turkey on the Weber in minus 20-something-degree temperatures. That was the year his brother Alan traveled here on business from Michigan and we hosted a pre-Christmas family gathering. That was the year Randy and his brother labored in sub-zero temperatures in the driveway trying to repair Alan’s company truck, the truck with a problem related to bad gas purchased in Chicago.

Crazy how you remember those things—turkey, truck and minus 20-degree temperatures—when your husband is grilling atop a snowbank on a January night in Minnesota.

Pork kabobs and foil-wrapped potatoes for the family and a week's worth of brats for Randy's lunchbox.

Randy ditches the winter gear to tend the food, all the time telling me to "hurry up" while I snap pictures.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An orchid for Ivy, an unforgettable love story January 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:12 AM

This story about Ivy published in the May/June 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments magazine.

THIS MORNING, LAVERNE HOFFMAN buries the love of his life, Ivy. They were married for 63 years, have two sons, four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren.

While the length of their time together certainly impresses, there is something else truly remarkable about the Hoffmans’ love story.

You won’t find this bit of information published in Ivagine E. “Ivy” Hoffman’s obituary. Yet, it is a cherished part of this Morristown couple’s relationship.

Every year since 1947, Laverne gave Ivy an orchid for Mother’s Day. How sweet is that?

A few years back, I interviewed Laverne about this tradition for a brief story published in the May/June 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments magazine. I didn’t talk to Ivy because she was in poor health and living in a care facility.

But Laverne matter-of-factly explained why he gave Ivy that annual orchid: “I had to get her something, so I got her that (an orchid).” After that first flower, Ivy came to expect an orchid and a meal out with her husband on Mother’s Day.

When I talked to Laverne in 2007, he told me that he visited Ivy every afternoon at the care facility.

“She’s been a wonderful wife,” he told me then. “I don’t think I could have ever found a better one. I kind of fell for her and she fell for me.” The two met at a dance hall along Cannon Lake near Faribault and married on September 12, 1946.

He attributed their happy, decades-long marriage to one thing—“behaving.” That comment made me smile.

Now today, as I think of the Hoffmans, I am smiling again. I never knew Ivy. But her obituary hints of a strong woman. She worked for 30 years as an LPN, among other jobs, and served as a president of the American Legion Third District Women’s Auxiliary. Perhaps most notable, at least to the public, Ivy broke ground in tiny Morristown by becoming the community’s first female city council member. She held that position for eight years and also served four months as acting mayor.

Yes, her accomplishments were many. She even pierced a 12-year-old neighbor girl’s ears using ice and a potato, according to a memory posted on the website of the funeral home handling her arrangements. Linda says she never had a bit of trouble with her ears. Another writer fondly remembers  “a great lady and friend.”

But for me, Ivy will always be defined by an orchid and by her husband’s loving words, “I don’t think I could have ever found a better one (wife).”

What a sweet, unforgettable, love story.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Legendary Lakemaids lure beer-drinking anglers January 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:44 PM

Packaging on August Schell Brewing Company Lakemaid Beer features a half-woman, half-fish.

Miss Salmon promotes Lakemaid Beer.

WHEN MY HUSBAND thunks the heavy beer case onto the kitchen counter Friday night, I do a double take.

“What kind of beer is that?” I ask, peering at the curvy mermaid women lounging on the side of the beer box.

“Schells,” he says, and I lean in closer.

Initially, I am offended that August Schell Brewing Company, from the conservative German community of New Ulm, would use this tactic of attractive women to lure beer drinkers.

But after I’ve calmed down a bit, given it some thought and done some research, my opinion changes.

The whole concept of Lakemaid Beer™ is really quite ingenious as it aims to hook anglers and also supports International Game Fish Association game fish research and conservation. A portion of the profits go to the IGFA.

Credit for the Lakemaid idea goes to the Twin Cities advertising firm of Pocket Hercules, which drew its inspiration partly from the legend of freshwater mermaids and from the Rainy Lake Mermaid sculpture positioned on a rock in the middle of Rainy Lake, according to the official Lakemaid Beer™ website, www.lakemaidbeer.com.

Schells and Rapala USA have teamed up to market this limited edition beer as an “angler’s lager…a beer that captures the essence of fishing, fun and the flavor of lake country.”

Released just in time for the May 2008 fishing opener, this classic American lager with a mild malt flavor aims to draw both warm and cold weather fishermen with seasonal releases.

The winter edition my husband reeled in features half-fish, half-women sporting furry bikini tops and wearing warm ear muffs, hats and/or scarves. To further promote the product to ice fishermen, the beer box includes a mini pin-up calendar insert complete with Lakemaid spotting tips.

January’s tip suggests: “Knocking on the ice with your boot or fist in rhythmic cadence is a reliable way to attract Lakemaids. Also, scoop your holes regularly. If a Lakemaid is going to surface she’s likely to favor a clean hole over a slushy one.”

Clearly, Schell’s brewery, Rapala and its marketing firm are expanding on this whole Lakemaid lore to sell beer and fishing gear. They’ve even created a National Lakemaid Reporting Center, for goodness sakes. The whole concept is, obviously, a keeper or Schells would have tossed the beer back into a Minnesota lake long ago.

Even non-anglers like my husband have taken the bait.

“I want to try some of your beer,” I tell Randy as he pours his Lakemaid into a mug. “Are women allowed to drink this beer?”

“You’ll start growing a fish tail maybe,” he replies.

So I grab my mug of Brau Brothers Brewing Company Strawberry Wheat brew.

He can keep his guy beer.

Six of the 12 Lakemaids featured on the packaging of Schell's Lakemaid Beer, winter edition.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Letter writers get Minnesota Prairie Roots Friday flowers January 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:43 AM

WHEN WAS THE LAST time you received a handwritten letter in the mail? Such correspondence seems a rarity in this age of instant communication via e-mail, twitter, Facebook and cell phones.

But on Monday, I received two handwritten letters—one on the palest of pink stationery and the other on plain white, lined notebook paper.

That Kathleen and LeAnn embrace this nearly obsolete craft of putting pen to paper makes them the recipients of this week’s Minnesota Prairie Roots virtual Friday flowers.

This combination of flowers and decorative grasses was photographed at the Lyndale Park Rose Garden in south Minneapolis this past August.

I appreciate anyone who engages in the art of letter writing, for handwritten letters are among life’s sweetest pleasures.

There’s something truly uplifting and connective about receiving a handwritten letter, for such words can be read and reread, and cherished. These missives convey a personal, caring touch that electronic communications will never offer.

My friend Kathleen writes with a free flowing flourish of cursive words, exclamation points and smiley faces that sweep across the page, reflecting her bubbly, outgoing, always positive personality.

My cousin LeAnn, on the other hand, prints her words carefully, neatly, in block letters that march precisely across the lined sheets of paper. This reflects her more reserved, introspective personality.

I savor both letters and both of these individuals who are part of my life.

For the joy you sent to me in your handwritten correspondence, thank you, LeAnn and Kathleen.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Wisconsin barns, a mission to preserve barns in words and photos January 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:23 AM

ANYONE WHO VALUES old barns will appreciate Wisconsin Barns, a recently-published book that takes readers on a photographic and historic journey aimed at preserving these rural icons.

Photographer Ernest J. Schweit and writer Nancy Schumm-Burgess profess their passion for barns, denoting their combined book effort as a way “to preserve the memory of the structures and the way of life they represent, before they would be lost to time and the elements.”

And a fine job these two do in achieving that goal.

For two years, the pair traveled the backroads and highways of Wisconsin searching for barns. The result is a remarkable compilation of 107 photos and factual snippets of information about the subjects photographed.

Schweit’s photographic talents shine in his composition, attention to lighting and awareness of the landscape as integral elements in best showcasing the selected barns. For example, the dreary gray sky mimics a weathered and dilapidated barn near Lomira. In another image, Schweit uses expanses of sky and corn fields to emphasize the smallness of a barn and windmill seemingly set in the middle of nowhere. In numerous instances, he’s shot photos of red barns in the winter, creating a sharp and beautiful contrast of color against the stark, white landscape.

Through her writing, Schumm-Burgess shares with readers, in brief summaries, gems of historical information. She incorporates facts about architects, barn styles, the relationships of barns to their geographical locations, farming practices and more.

I even learned something about a company with roots in Redwood County, Minnesota, my home county. Sears, Roebuck and Company, which originated in tiny North Redwood, sold barn kits that included instructions, wood and the hardware to build an entire barn.

So whether you’re from Wisconsin or Minnesota, like me, or anywhere else, and love old barns, like me, you’ll find Wisconsin Barns a delightful visual and informational treasure-trove.


Wisconsin Barns is available at bookstores and gift shops, through online retailers or from Farcountry Press at 1.800.821.3874, www.farcountrypress.com. The 80-page softcover title retails for $14.95.

Also, check out Schweit’s websites at www.ernestjschweit.blogspot.com and

© Text copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Book cover image courtesy of Farcountry Press, Helena, Mt.


Winter weather tidbits from cold and snowy Minnesota January 13, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:58 AM

Snow buries a lawn chair on my backyard patio.

IN MINNESOTA, weather often dominates conversation and no more so than in the winter.

Inches and inches of snow have piled up into impressive snow banks, at least here in southeastern Minnesota during the past month. Temperatures have been so consistently, bitterly cold that the entire state, not just International Falls, could be considered an icebox.

Snow just keeps piling up, everywhere.

This has made many of us a bit squirrelly.

So, just for your entertainment, here are some weather tidbits from the frozen northland.

“Man, it’s a tropical 12 degrees,” my 15-year-old son says at 7:50 a.m. Monday before stepping outside. As the back door closes, I hear him mutter, “Uh, it’s still cold.”

Our grill, held in winter's grip.

And from KSTP television news anchor Bill Lunn comes this comment: “My truck has more salt on it than a bag of pretzels.” He’s referring, of course, to all the road salt that crews dump onto our roadways and which ends up coating our vehicles in a fine layer of white.

White vehicles, white woods, white everything. This is Minnesota in winter, as seen from my backyard.

My husband and I surmise Monday evening that the then 17-degree temperature qualifies as a heat wave, remembering that at one point on Saturday, the temperature registered at minus 17 degrees below zero, a 34-degree difference.

“Buses on plowed roads only.” That crawler scrolled across television screens constantly last week as southern Minnesota dealt with yet another raging winter storm.

My favorite snow story comes from Redwood County, where an eastbound vehicle became stuck along Minnesota Highway 19 near my hometown of Vesta. Once released from the snow’s hold, the motorist followed a snowplow to Redwood Falls and was then ordered to stay put. The traveler apparently didn’t heed that warning. Later, the same vehicle became stuck again, in the exact same location near Vesta. However, this time the driver was heading west towards Marshall.

Don't fence me in. Apparently the Redwood County motorist took that literally. Here's my backyard fence, casting a shadow upon the snow.

If you have an interesting snow story or tidbit to tell, I’d like to hear it. I’ve already begun gathering stories and photos from southwestern Minnesota and I’ll share those in a later post.

In the meantime, enjoy the warm-up supposedly headed our way.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Savoring Minnesota maple syrup at a pancake breakfast January 12, 2010

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

I brought home a jar of Ryan's delicious, Minnesota-made pure maple syrup.

“YOU WENT TO A PANCAKE breakfast?” my incredulous daughter Miranda asks, emphasizing you and pancake.

Yes, I have confessed to attending a Sunday morning pancake breakfast at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault.

Typically, I do not attend pancake breakfasts. As my immediate family well knows, I eat pancakes only when offered no other alternative. And if I have to eat pancakes, I prefer mine laced with blueberries or mini chocolate chips, anything that will disguise the taste of a plain pancake.

The smell of frying flapjack batter nearly churns my stomach. This reaction, I believe, is triggered by memories of attending a free pancake breakfast at the National Guard Armory in Redwood Falls as a child. Then, I waited too long in a long line in a crowded building that was not well-ventilated.

But this Sunday, I am at the pancake breakfast because my friend Larry, who is going with his wife, Vivian, on a mission trip to China, has asked me to work. “I will do anything except make pancakes,” I tell him.

So I am serving sausages beside Sharon, who is serving pancakes. I’m not sure I should admit this, but the pancakes actually smell kind of good. And that’s good, because just feet away, volunteers pour batter onto counter top griddles and flip pancakes by the dozen.

During a lull, my pancake-flipping friend Leann asks if I’m going to eat. At first I decline, but then give in to hunger pangs and join her with a plate of two pancakes and a sausage.

But it’s more than the pancakes that lure me to the table. Maple syrup tempts me. Ryan, son of my pancake-serving friend, Sharon, made the syrup using sap from trees tapped on his Cannon City area acreage. And even though I’m a life-long Minnesotan, I’ve never tasted pure maple syrup.

I am surprised, expecting thick syrup to pour from the bottle. Instead, this syrup runs like water onto my pancakes.

But the taste, ah, the taste.  It is, I discover, unlike the overly-sweet pancake and waffle corn syrup found in most kitchen cupboards. Ryan’s pure maple syrup offers just a pleasant hint of perfect natural sweetness.

Later, when I’ve finished my pancakes, served more pancakes and pitched in with clean-up tasks, I pick up the quart jar of Ryan’s syrup that Ryan’s dad, Carl, has given me. It’s a beautiful color, this amber liquid, a flavorful treat as much for the eyes as for the taste buds.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Ryan's Minnesota-made maple syrup is a beautiful amber color.

If you’re interested in purchasing Ryan’s Minnesota-made maple syrup, e-mail me or send your contact info via a comment (which I won’t publish) and I’ll connect you with Ryan.