Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Snow in Arkansas, but not here in Minnesota? March 21, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:54 PM

A tulip pokes through the earth, heralding the arrival of spring in southeastern Minnesota.

TYPICALLY, MY RELATIVES who live in northern Arkansas would be telling me about the beautiful weather down there in March.

Not today.

Snow began falling in Bella Vista at 3 p.m. yesterday and didn’t stop until six inches had accumulated. Rain followed the snow Sunday morning.

For my Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Robin that means no church services, no trips to the grocery store, no nothing. They’re stuck at home until the ice melts off their driveway and roadways.

Now, I don’t know about the rest of you Minnesotans, but I will take snow over ice any day.

Only occasional patches of snow remain in southeastern Minnesota. And any ice, well, you’ll find that only on lakes or rivers.

Today marked another glorious day of sunshine here, a perfect day for a Sunday afternoon drive.  And that’s exactly what my husband and I did today. We drove east, into Sogn Valley.

That’s SOH-gun, not SNOW-gun, Valley. I’ll take you on tour there later this week.

Now, I need to step outside and tour my yard and see how those sprouting tulips are flourishing in the warmth of snow-free southern Minnesota.

Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Oh, sweet, sweet first day of spring March 20, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:57 PM

Sap drips from a maple tree.

“IS TODAY THE FIRST day of spring?” I ask my husband this morning.

“I don’t know. Check the calendar,” he says.

Check the calendar, because you certainly can’t tell by the temperature here in southeastern Minnesota.

While earlier this week we were walking outside in shirt sleeves, today we are wearing our winter coats. We all knew those 60-degree temps are simply teasers to the reality of spring. Such is the fickleness of seasons in the northland.

Still, today was beautiful with sunny skies and the promise of warmer days to come.

I spent part of my day outdoors, in the country, learning about maple syrup making.

It felt good to walk under clear skies, the wind brushing briskly across my face, my boots sucking into the mud along a field road as I headed for a ravine dense with maple trees. As I dipped my finger into the clear, pure, raw sap and tasted its hint of sweetness, I thought, life really doesn’t get much better than this.

Yes, this was a very good day, this first day of spring.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(Watch for a future blog post about making maple syrup.)


The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plane, if the plane ever gets there

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:03 PM

“Sprechen Sie Deutsch?”

“No, no hablo alemán. Hablo español.”

Perhaps the Faribault High School Spanish students on a spring break trip to Spain wish they spoke Deutsch (German).

The group, which includes my 16-year-old son, arrived this morning in Frankfurt, Germany, instead of Madrid, Spain.

OK then, how did this happen?

Well, the American Airlines plane, which they were supposed to take from Chicago to Miami Friday afternoon, was grounded due to mechanical problems.

Better to be on the ground with mechanical issues than in the air, I say.

But this caused all sorts of scheduling difficulties because the next plane out of Chicago left too late to catch the connecting flight to Madrid.

All of this I learned during three phone calls from my son around noon on Friday. Would they ever leave Chicago, I wondered. During his last call, he told me they were flying to Germany. Kind of the scenic route to get to their destination, isn’t it? But… I suppose sometimes there aren’t many options.

Finally, at 8:50 p.m. Friday, 10-plus hours after arriving in the Windy City, they began the trip to Frankfurt.

More than 24 hours later, I had heard nothing. No news is good news, I figure.

And I was right. Shortly after 2 p.m. today, the senior Spanish teacher’s husband called. The group had arrived at their hotel in cloudy, sometimes rainy, Madrid.

Now, maybe, just maybe, they can begin their European adventure–in the right country.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Encouraging words for the mother of a spring break traveler March 19, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:09 AM

I REALLY AM NOT good at this thing called “letting go.”

Thursday afternoon I cried as I embraced my second daughter. I had just gotten used to having Miranda around the house and at the supper table for a few days when she packed her bags and headed back to college in La Crosse.

Then today, oh, today. My 16-year-old son left hours ago for the airport, beginning a journey that takes him on a Spanish class trip to Spain. I expect the next 10 days to crawl, creep as if in slow motion for me.

I am feeling today like I felt nearly 10 years ago when I sent my oldest daughter away on a mission trip to Texas. The separation was heart-wrenching for me. Not for her. But I survived and then allowed my daughters to leave again and again. I sort of got used to their travels, even the journeys to foreign countries.

But this time it’s different. This is my youngest, who has never flown, who hasn’t been away from home without us all that often. And that is exactly the reason my husband and I allowed Caleb to go. We know he needs to get out in the world, to see and experience different cultures and places.

This separation I will endure for those reasons.

Family and friends understand how challenging this is for me and have offered their support.

“Today will be the roughest,” my son’s godmother writes in an email. “You said yes because you knew about all the things he’ll learn on such a trip. Airports, customs, traveling with a group that isn’t family, hotel stays… All of those things are eye opening for a teenager. Not to mention, seeing Spain? How cool will that be?”

A friend writes: “What a great experience for your son to go to Spain…what awesome parents you are to let him go off for such a life experience at his age… I can totally feel for you not wanting to let him go, but he’ll be ok…you wouldn’t be letting him go if you didn’t think he was mature enough and smart enough to go along…he’ll never forget this time that you gave him and trusted him…”

Then there’s this comment from a sister-in-law who clearly understands my anxiety: “I can’t imagine—I thought children doing college travel abroad was difficult.”

Yet another sister-in-law warns me of what may lie ahead: “…when Caleb returns he’ll do nothing but repeat over and over how he wants to return to Spain!”

Been there, done that with my second daughter and Argentina.

Finally, the absolute best comment, which made me laugh out loud, comes from my 17-year-old niece: “Oh he’ll have so much fun! Don’t worry yourself to death; he needs a mom to come home to. 🙂 I leave for Costa Rica on Monday so if you’re missing Caleb, call my mom and you two can bond over it.”

That certainly puts my situation in the proper humorous perspective, doesn’t it?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A mom stresses about sending a child on a spring break trip to Spain March 18, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:04 AM

See that purple country there on the globe. My boy will call Spain his home during spring break.

IN LESS THAN 24 hours, my boy will be on his way to Spain.

And, yes, my level of anxiety is high. He’s my youngest, after all, and an inexperienced traveler to boot. Fortunately, my 16-year-old is going with four adults who are chaperoning this high school Spanish class. “Take care of my baby,” I advised one of them last night.

Wednesday had been an especially stressful day for me as I began going through check lists, packing and rechecking.

Did I mention that if my son was packing, he would likely do it 10 minutes before leaving and then forget something? Maybe it’s a boy thing. Or perhaps it’s his age. But my daughters always did their own organizing and packing upon leaving for trips abroad.

They’ve been to Paraguay and Costa Rica and Argentina, all during college, not high school. My second daughter studied in South America for six months and hopes to return there upon college graduation in May. I should be used to this, right? Not.

But back to Wednesday and all that stress.

Everything was going fine until I couldn’t find my boy’s debit card. It wasn’t where I thought it should be. So I searched the other two locations where I may have stashed it. Three times. My efforts proved futile.

A quick scan of my son’s room also failed to turn up the debit card. So, I figured he had hidden it.

Of course, when he arrived home from school, he said, “I don’t have it. You have it.”

“No, I don’t,” I answered. Tempers flared. Voices rose.

I searched again, and found the card lying on the floor of a closet. It apparently fell out of his passport.

I apologized to my teen.

So today I am washing clothes, doing last-minute packing and wondering if my friend Janet (not her real name because she doesn’t want her husband to know about this) has found her daughter’s passport. As of last night, the passport was still missing.

Now that, I think, is worse than a missing debit card.

There will be a big, wide ocean between me and my son. I'm going to pretend he is elsewhere, maybe some place closer like Chicago. Yeah, that's how I'll cope.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Even a German can be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:08 AM

The old parish hall at the Church of St. Patrick, Shieldsville, MN., and the subject of a short story I wrote for the March/April issue of Minnesota Moments.

ON ST. PATRICK’S DAY, aren’t we all Irish?

Take me. Even though my ancestors are 100 percent stubborn German, I can list at least eight reasons why I am semi-Irish:

  • I like potatoes—mashed, fried, French-fried, Au gratin, baked, in soup, hash browns and, yes, even tator tots.
  • I eat cabbage, uh, I mean sauerkraut.
  • If Irish eyes are smiling, then mine are smiling especially today. You see, my eyes are green.
  • My grandma Ida often said, “The Irish and the Dutch, they don’t amount to much.” I have no idea why grandma said this, but, if you’re Irish or Dutch, please forgive this German woman. I didn’t believe her then; I don’t believe her now.
  • Quick, what’s  “magically delicious?” If you know the answer, then you have been, like me, indoctrinated by a leprechaun.*
  • My favorite color is green. Every day, not just on St. Patrick’s Day.
  • An Irishman, my Uncle Robin, was allowed to marry into my German family. However, my sister Lanae and I were extremely disappointed when we discovered that this native of Northern Ireland did not have red hair, freckles or pointy ears. We still love him, though, and his soft-spoken Irish brogue.

More importantly, our retired chemist uncle created Femara (letrozole), the drug used to treat breast cancer in postmenopausal women. How cool is that?

  • While growing up, I sometimes searched the clover patch for a four-leaf clover, just like all the other German kids I knew.

So there. Have I proven that I am a tiny bit Irish?

What makes you Irish?

And, yes, I suppose drinking green beer counts, but only for today.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Vintage sign on the circa 1910 parish hall in the Irish village of Shieldsville in Rice County, Minnesota.

The Church of St. Patrick celebrates its patron saint today with a 6 p.m. Mass followed by an Irish meal, entertainment, and, yes, green beer.

(* Lucky Charms cereal is “magically delicious,” according to the General Mills leprechaun who has been telling us this for decades.)

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Grilling on a snow-free patio March 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:52 PM

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

WHAT A DIFFERENCE two months can make here in Minnesota.

On January 17, my husband fires up the Weber grill atop three feet of snow in 26-degree temperatures. He’s bundled in a winter coat, stocking cap, gloves and boots.

Eight weeks later he tosses mounds of melting snow from the patio onto the lawn in near-60-degree weather on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Later, he’s grilling on a snow-free patio.

He’s shed his warm winter outwear, but doesn’t forgo the flannel. Not yet.

He knows that when you live in Minnesota, one warm March day holds only the promise of spring, not the reality of spring.

Randy grills on March 14 on the snow-free patio.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The wheels on the bus go round and round through the flood waters March 15, 2010

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


I am more than a bit baffled by this school bus graphic used by the KSTP TV weather department to illustrate potential flooding in Minnesota.

I photographed this KSTP flood-bus graphic on my television set Saturday evening.

How does a bus relate to flood forecasting?

Honestly, I don’t know of any bus drivers who would purposely drive students onto or anywhere near a flooded roadway.

So what gives? Can anyone explain this bus graphic aired on Channel 5 news at 10 p.m. Saturday and on previous nights?

Text © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


What are your favorite board games? March 13, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:50 AM

The well-used vintage Candy Land game of my youth.


How about Cootie, Scrabble or Monopoly?

As a child, I played all four and especially enjoyed any type of word game. Today I still like word games. Surprised?

My son will tell you that I am a social game player, meaning I play games primarily to socialize. He is right. If I win in the process, then that’s simply an extra bonus.

Him? He’s into strategic games like Risk and chess and Race for the Galaxy, a game we gave him for Christmas with rules so complicated that they fill a book. I’m serious.

Fortunately, he’s found others with the same mind-set at our church’s monthly Game Night. The serious gamers play the strategic games.

The rest of us, well, we sit and laugh and talk and eat and then laugh and talk and eat some more.

How about you? What types of board games do you like and why?

Or do you even play board games?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Is a Somali restaurant next in line for a new paint color in historic Faribault? March 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 1:08 PM

This Somali restaurant, Banadir Restaurant in historic downtown Faribault is now targeted for a new paint color. What about the building on the left?

FIRST THEY DIDN’T like green. Now it’s red.

What’s with this town?

Last fall some business owners, unhappy with the vivid green color of The Los 3 Reyes Bakery in downtown Faribault, successfully got that building repainted a subtle gray-green. How? After bakery owner Mariano Perez said he couldn’t afford to repaint his recently-painted bakery, the objecting business people passed the hat. (Read my Sept. 30, Oct. 6 and Nov. 9, 2009, and March 4, 2010, posts for more background.)

The bright green Los 3 Reyes Bakery, before it was repainted. What about that building on the right?

The Los 3 Reyes Bakery in downtown Faribault after it was repainted a subtler, almost gray- green.

All of this stirred up quite the debate in Faribault about the color of buildings in our historic downtown. From the man/woman on the street to the City Council to business owners to the Heritage Preservation Commission, everyone has an opinion, me included.

While I appreciate the historic beauty of old buildings, I really struggle with the whole idea of new government regulations or guidelines that aim at dictating color choices. Faribault already has sufficient guidelines in place to protect historic buildings.

What’s acceptable to me or the mayor or my neighbor as a color choice may be totally unacceptable to someone like Perez, who hails from Mexico.

And, just for the record, I embraced the original vivid green on Perez’ bakery.

Now, fast forward to this week, when the City Council adopted a resolution to apply for a Picture-It-Painted grant from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.

This time Banadir Restaurant, a Somali business two blocks from the Mexican bakery, is the target for a proposed new paint job. It seems “someone” doesn’t like the predominantly red, accented by green and white, building colors.

I as much as figured more buildings would be the focus of suggested facelifts.

According to the adopted City Council resolution (published on the city Web site), the Picture-It-Painted grant application was “developed jointly with the property owner of 211 Central Avenue and the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce.”

The resolution continues: “…the City has determined there is a public benefit to submitting this application in order to preserve and enhance a contributing building located within the historic commercial district.”

OK then, how do you define “enhance?” Is a new paint color more enhancing than the red, green and white already on the building?

Or would this be a step toward limiting freedom of choice? I think so.

Information from the SMIF Web site states that “project priority (is) based on visual impact, public benefit, volunteer participation and support, intended use, and benefit to those in need.”

To add to the drama, consider this: City staff submitted the Picture-It-Painted grant before the City Council approved the submission. The grant application deadline was March 3 and the Council approved the resolution, by a 4 – 2 vote, on March 9. Is this normal procedure, to submit a grant application first and then ask for rubber stamp approval later?

The debate continues. Grant awardees will be notified by the end of March. Will Banadir Restaurant be repainted or not?

What’s your take on all of this? I welcome comments and insights.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling