Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

He smashed his thumb November 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:16 AM
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MY HUSBAND CALLED late yesterday afternoon. “I’m at the clinic.” Those are words a wife does not want to hear.

“What did you do?” The question popped automatically out of my mouth.

“Smashed my thumb with a hammer.”

This did not sound good, not good at all.

“They’re going to do an x-ray and I may need stitches.”

For my automotive machinist spouse, his hands are his tools, so these types of injuries always concern me.

My husband at work with a hammer, a tool he uses often as an automotive machinist.

I hung up, then worried and fretted and worried some more while waiting for a follow-up phone call. Forty-five minutes later he called from the Northfield clinic to say he was on his way home to Faribault.

“I got three stitches.”

The injured, and stitched, left thumb. My husband says I will gross you out with this image. To abate his concerns, I've down-sized the photo.

“What’s the prognosis?”

“It’s not broken, but they found bone fragments floating around. They think it might be from a previous injury, maybe not, and want me to come back in a week for another x-ray.”

He claims he didn’t injure the thumb prior to yesterday.

I doubt that statement. Throughout our 28 ½ years of marriage, he’s hit his thumbs more than once with a hammer at work, although certainly not this severely.

Here's proof of a previous injury. Note the semi-circle scar on the right thumb, the telltale mark of stitches from an earlier injury.

This time he delivered a glancing blow to his left thumb with a two-pound hammer while pounding universal joints out of a drive shaft. Ouch.

He’s off to work this morning, despite the doctor’s instructions that he stay home.

He told her he couldn’t. Too much work and he wasn’t going to let an injury like this keep him down. He possesses a strong work ethic and a degree of German stubbornness.

The physician conceded, told him to keep the thumb clean and dry. I’m uncertain how he will manage that given the nature of his job gets his hands dirty and greasy.

My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed.

This morning he struggled to button his shirt. How will he operate machinery, deal with heavy and grimy automotive parts? But, he’s determined. My concern, a few stitches, a clumsy splint, swelling and a little pain aren’t going to stop him from working.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Santa Claus is coming to town on a John Deere tractor November 29, 2010

I HAVE FOND CHILDHOOD memories of Ham Day in my hometown of Vesta, a farming community of some 350 on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. When I was growing up, Vesta boasted a one-block main street lined with businesses. Today you’ll find a bank on one corner, the municipal liquor store on another, a café a stone’s throw away, the post office and that’s about it in the heart of town.

Back then, the Commercial Club sponsored an annual December Ham Day at the community hall. This offered an opportunity for local businesses to thank customers by giving away hams in a drawing.


The Vesta Community Hall, site of the annual Ham Day in December.

It also gave farm families an opportunity to socialize and, well, win a ham. You can bet my dad made sure his six kids signed up at as many businesses as possible for the ham give-away. Every year we went home with a ham.

But that’s not all. We kids also got goodie bags parceled out by Santa Claus, played by my Uncle Clarence. After the drawing, we would tromp outside and form a line into the Legion Hall. There Santa handed each kid a brown paper bag packed with peanuts, an apple, an orange, a marshmallow Santa and, best of all, a chocolate Hershey bar. Could life get any sweeter? Not for this farm girl.

With Ham Day forever a part of my cherished Christmas memories, I wondered what holiday happenings out there might hold special memories for today’s generation.

Here are a few upcoming events that seem suitable for memory-making:


John Deere tractors galore lined up at the 2009 Rice County Steam & Gas Engine Show. Santa will likely arrive on a newer model John Deere at this week's SEMA Equipment holiday open houses.

SANTAS ARRIVE IN JOHN DEERE tractors at SEMA Equipment, Inc. holiday open houses this week. From 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Thursday, December 2, Santa will be at the ag implement dealership in Wanamingo. From 9 a.m. – noon on Saturday, December 4, Santa will simultaneously appear at SEMA in LeRoy, Plainview, Spring Valley, St. Charles and Austin. Don’t ask me how. But Santa is magical and I suppose he can be in five places at once.

I expect a lot of happy kids sharing cookies with the Jolly Old Man, riding in John Deere tractors, and bringing home Silly Bands and John Deere suckers. Even I would like a John Deere sucker. (I have fond memories of attending John Deere Day each year in Redwood Falls.)

IF YOU WANT TO ATTEND A TORCHLIGHT parade and dislike big city traffic and crowds (like me), take the kiddos over to Montgomery for the annual Torchlight Parade & Fireworks beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 2. Post parade you’ll be treated to a beautiful computer-choreographed fireworks display set to holiday music.


Book characters Tib, left, Tacy and Betsy, in a mural in the Maud Hart Lovelace Children's Wing at the Blue Earth County Library in Mankato. Marian Anderson painted scenes from the 10 Betsy-Tacy books.

CHILDREN (AND ADULTS) who are fans of the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace can experience an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 4, at the Betsy-Tacy houses in Mankato. Costumed characters will represent Betsy Ray and her family. Carolers will entertain. Refreshments will be served in the across-the-street houses decorated for the holidays.


Betsy Ray's (Maud Hart Lovelace) house along Center Street in Mankato, photographed this past summer.

UP NORTH IN HUBBARD, eight miles south of Park Rapids, you’ll find another interesting holiday happening which is likely more suited for adults than kids. The Long Lake Theater’s production of Ole & Lena’s It’s a Wonderful Life opens Thursday, December 2, for a two-week, eight-day run. The last show is December 12. Billed as a parody of the beloved Christmas classic with a Minnesota twist, the performance features those well-known Minnesota Scandinavians, Ole and Lena.


Santa stops at the beautifully-restored Bachrach Building in downtown Faribault on Saturday.

SANTA WILL POSE for pictures and visit with kids in Faribault during a Hometown Holidays event from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 4, in the Bachrach Building, 318 N. Central Avenue.  (No mention of goodie bags.) Other activities include cookie decorating and ornament making.

Across the street at the Paradise Center for the Arts, holiday storytime begins at 3 p.m. The Faribault High School Band the local Girl Scouts will also provide musical entertainment.

Old Trondhjem Church, photographed in the summer.

A CONCERT OF CHRISTMAS favorites will surely get you in the holiday spirit at a Norwegian country church near Lonsdale. The historic church presents “Sounds of Christmas at Old Trondhjem: Janet White and Friends” at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 12.

IF YOU KNOW of an interesting holiday activity in your Minnesota neighborhood, submit the information in a comment or an email. I’ll start a list and share the information in an upcoming post/posts.

Likewise, if you have wonderful memories of a childhood Christmas event like Ham Day in Vesta, I’d like to hear those stories too.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sick of high healthcare costs November 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:56 PM
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MY HEALTH INSURANCE premium arrived in the mail yesterday. Happy holidays!


It’s due shortly before Christmas.

Bah! Humbug!

In mid-June, the premium increased from $801 to $813 for three months of coverage. Do the math. That’s $271 per month or $3,252 a year.

I am not happy.

Here’s the deal. I foolishly thought healthcare reform would mean lower premiums and lower costs for medical visits, in other words, more affordable healthcare for families like mine. We are not wealthy. We live in a modest home in a modest neighborhood. We have no debt. We spend carefully and wisely.

But when it comes to health insurance, I believe the word “affordable” cannot fit, cannot even be squeezed, into the same sentence.

I pay $271 a month for coverage with a $3,000 deductible. In other words, my coverage is basically major medical.

I’ve evaluated getting onto my husband’s plan at work. That would cost me even more than the individual policy I have as a self-employed writer. His employer pays only a small portion of his health insurance premium and my spouse, too, has a high deductible.

I haven’t crunched the numbers lately, but my family (which also includes one still-at-home 16-year-old) is forking out a lot of money every month for health insurance.

Yet, we rarely go to the doctor because of the high deductibles and the high cost of healthcare. Cost is a great deterrent for skipping routine exams. I’m just being honest here.

Another problem I face is past medical history. I had total hip replacement surgery in 2008. I will need a new, and very costly, hip in 15 – 20 years. Insurance companies have these policies about pre-existing conditions.  So, even if I was to look for different insurance, the hip would likely be excluded from coverage.

I have no answers to any of this. I just know that I am sick and tired of the high cost of health insurance and of healthcare.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on the topic and do you have any answers? What are you spending every month on health insurance premiums?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thanksgiving family memories November 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:50 PM
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I CAN’T IMAGINE Thanksgiving without family. They make the day memorable and fun and cherished.

This year 14 of us sat down to a turkey dinner at our house. That’s really a small number given if everyone from my side of the family attended, 26 of us would gather around the tables. Seldom, though, are we all together on Thanksgiving or Easter; that usually happens only at Christmas and never in my small, cramped house.

Anyway, Thursday’s get together provided plenty of memorable moments and laughter, some of which I’ll share. Others are best kept within the family. Here, for your entertainment, are some of those publishable moments:

  • My mom arrived with two cans of corn, soda crackers, cheddar cheese and other ingredients for a scalloped corn dish which she insisted I requested for my eldest. I kept insisting that I had not requested the corn and my daughter, who was called upon to help prepare the dish, kept insisting this was not her favorite corn. No matter how loudly my daughter and I protested, we could not convince my mom that we had not asked for the vegetable. Later, when my sister, L, arrived, we learned that she had requested the corn and that our niece, H, loves it.
  • The corn-requesting sister failed to bring the prune-filled fruit stuffing that is our mother’s favorite and which a certain sister-in-law detests. My youngest brother then shared that the first time he had Thanksgiving dinner with his in-laws, he told them he didn’t like fruit stuffing. They looked at him like he was crazy and told him they didn’t have fruit in their dressing.
  • That same brother wore jeans to Thanksgiving dinner. This is significant because, as his wife revealed, he has not worn jeans in some 25 years. They went jean shopping on her recent birthday and my brother bought not one, but two pair, of jeans.  I don’t know whether the fact that my brother is an attorney has anything to do with his two-plus decades of boycotting blue jeans or not. But I do know that he’s missed out on many years of comfort.


At 11:33 a.m. on November 25, 2010, my sister, L, had nothing to say.

  • At exactly 11:33 a.m., my sister, L, stated that she had nothing to say/was speechless. I was in the other room and did not hear why she said this. But, we all made a very big deal of this statement given my sister has never been at a loss for words. She always speaks her mind. A roomful of witnesses duly noted the time and I declared it a monumental moment in family history. (This same sister later threatened to light my vintage Thanksgiving candles.)


The vintage Thanksgiving candles that will never be touched by fire.

  • During an interrogation about any men in her life, my second daughter rolled her eyes. This did not go unnoticed and a brief discussion ensued on this inherited family trait. I roll my eyes, my kids all roll their eyes and my sister and her daughter roll their eyes. My sister-in-law says her kids are not allowed to roll their eyes. Uh, huh.
  • My husband failed to remove the foil cover from the turkey during baking. A pale white turkey is not a pleasant sight.
  • When I started whipping cream for the pumpkin dessert, my sister-in-law called her son to “watch Aunt Audrey make real whipped cream.”
  • My eldest brought a to-die-for cheesecake, which she whipped up by hand because she could not find the beaters for her hand-mixer.
  • Two of my nieces, a nephew and my son washed and dried the dishes. My 16-year-old, who towers at six-foot-one (or is it two), complained about the low sink.


My tall, tall son declares our sink "too low." That's as good a reason as any for purchasing a replacement for my vintage brown sink, don't you think? I would really like to win a kitchen make-over.

  • I made my sister and my middle brother and his significant other tromp outside in the cold and snow to look at siding samples for the front of our house.
  • My sister-in-law commented on the brown shirts my son and eldest were wearing and said brown was the color to wear for Thanksgiving. She was dressed in a button-up red sweater and a shirt she would have to button over if she was in church. She told me I was wearing an Easter shirt. I told her I didn’t care.


I have never pretended to be fashionable. I wore this "Easter shirt" for Thanksgiving because I wanted to be cool (I'm a woman over 50) and comfortable while working in the kitchen.

  • My brother offered $1,500 for a painting I purchased for $7 at a recycled art sale at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. I quickly accepted the offer for the Jose Maria de Servin painting, which is worth considerably more than $7. He quickly withdrew his offer, saying he was “just kidding.”

My bargain Jose Maria de Servin painting

  • Family members gathered around the dining room table after dinner poring over newspaper ads. None of us, except the momentarily speechless sister (see above), shops on Black Friday. She informed us that she enjoys the thrill of the hunt while regaling us with stories about shoving shoppers and angry shoppers in the parking lot. She successfully convinced all of us to stay home on Black Friday.


My brother and sister-in-law brought a stack of newspaper ads for us to peruse after dinner.

WHAT ARE YOUR THANKSGIVING stories? If you have a publishable story to share, send it my way via a comment to Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Psalm of Thanksgiving November 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:54 PM
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PSALM 147: 7 – 9

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;

Autumn window, Valley Grove Church, rural Nerstrand

make music to our God on the harp. (An organ will do if you don’t have a harp.)

Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland, organ keys

He covers the sky with clouds;

Train near Lamberton

he supplies the earth with rain

and makes grass grow on the hills.

Cattle grazing along U.S. Highway 71 in southwestern Minnesota.

He provides food for the cattle

Silo and cornfield along U.S. Highway 71.

and for the young ravens when they call.

So... I didn't have a photo of ravens. These chickens from Prairie Winds Antiques in Springfield will have to substitute.

I hope, dear readers, that your Thanksgiving, your year, has been blessed with music, with sunshine following the rain, with green grass under your feet, with food for your table and, most of all, with the love of family and of friends.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Holy Bible, New International Version

Photos © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Farm Country Thanksgiving November 24, 2010

The third book in the Farm Country series.

WHENEVER I OPEN one of Lakeville author Gordon Fredrickson’s books, I feel like I’m stepping back in time to my childhood on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm.

I’m thankful for Fredrickson, who understands the value in preserving the history of small family farms. Because he was raised on a Scott County dairy farm and farmed for awhile as an adult with his wife, Nancy, Fredrickson gets his 1950s era farm stories right.

Last night I snuggled up in the recliner with his latest children’s picture book, A Farm Country Thanksgiving. I thought it would be a fairly quick read, but I was wrong.

I didn’t whiz through this story told from the viewpoint of 10-year-old farm boy Jimmy. Rather, I savored every rhyming word by Fredrickson and every detailed illustration by Michaelin Otis.

I was the one sledding down the hill. I was the one with snow stuffed down my neck by my older brother. I was pitching silage down the silo chute, eating banana-filled Jell-O, sitting at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving…

If you grew up on a farm in the 1950s and 1960s, you absolutely must read this book and Fredrickson’s other Farm Country series stories about Halloween and Christmas. He’s also published three If I Were a Farmer books.

I guarantee that you will feel all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic and want to dig out the old photo albums or reminisce with your siblings.

I noticed the ear flapper caps, the buckle overshoes, the checkerboard ringed silo (just like the one on my childhood farm), the old runner sled—book illustrations that are as accurate as photographs. The only difference: My albums hold black-and-white snapshots.

Fredrickson captures the essence of family, of hard work, of rural life. He understands that these are worth preserving. But his efforts to save our rural heritage extend beyond his books. This writer travels across Minnesota, and sometimes out of state, presenting his message to school children, senior citizens and others. He dresses the part of a 1950s farmer in bib overalls, brings farm props, talks and reads from his books.

I will tell you too that Fredrickson and his wife, Nancy, are as genuine and kind-hearted and as down-to-earth good as they come. My husband and I lunched with the couple this past summer. Although we had never met before then, having corresponded only via e-mail, I felt as comfortable with the Fredricksons as if I had known them for years. They are truly my kind of without pretenses folks.


I snapped this image of the Fredricksons after lunching with them in August.

I must also point out to you that Fredrickson gives me a plug on the back cover of his Thanksgiving book. He has pulled a quote from a book review I wrote. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the praise I am directing toward him here. He has earned his praise by writing these books, complete with glossaries (after I suggested a glossary), that forever preserve life on the family farm.

I thank him for taking on this project with a passion rooted deep in the land.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Book cover image courtesy of Gordon Fredrickson


Thoughts on the latest conflict in Korea November 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:38 PM
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WHEN I HEARD this morning of the North Korean attack on South Korea over contested waters, I thought instantly of my dad. He fought on the front lines during the Korean War and was wounded at Heartbreak Ridge.

My father, Elvern Kletscher, left, with two of his soldier-buddies in Korea.

He, like so many other Americans, gave of themselves in Korea and, still, 60 years later, the conflict between the north and the south remains. Were the Americans’ efforts six decades ago worth the personal losses given nothing was ever truly resolved?

I know what my dad sacrificed for his country. He gave up a certain sense of inner peace. He was forever haunted by the horrors of war. That affected many facets of his life and impacted his family too. Me. My mom. My siblings. Life was sometimes a struggle for him.

But my dad was lucky. He survived. He did not die, like his buddy Ray, who was blown apart the day before he was to leave Korea. My father saw his friend die. You never forget something like that. I heard the horrible, wrenching story many times.

All of these thoughts passed through my mind today. I miss my dad, who died in 2003. I wonder how different he may have been had he never been called upon to defend South Korea, to kill North Koreans, to see his friends die upon the mountains of Korea.

I wonder. And, yes, today, with the news of the escalating tension, my heart breaks.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Cheese, cheeseheads and football November 22, 2010

A glimpse of shoppers walking along Pearl Street in La Crosse, Wisc., as seen from inside Cheddarheads, a cow/cheesehead crazy gift shop.

I WENT TO THE GROCERY store Sunday to purchase some last minute food for Thanksgiving dinner, including cheese for pre-meal snacking. My extended family prefers to extend their stomachs before indulging in a turkey dinner with trimmings.

Because they are an adventuresome bunch, I grabbed mango and tomato basil cheeses from Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese and Eden Vale’s black peppercorn smoked Gouda and cranberry white cheddar.

My husband questioned some of my selections, but I didn’t waver except for also choosing the “Best of class 2007” Colby from Henning’s. My family is not the safe American, Velveeta, plain old cheddar type of cheese-eaters. We prefer jazzed-up cheeses.

I’m also serving St. Pete’s Select blue cheese from Faribault Dairy Company, a subsidiary of Swiss Valley Farms. My husband and I, and two of my dinner-guest brothers, love that creamy, premium blue cheese, aged in the sandstone caves of my community.

All of this cheese writing this morning reminds me of my second eldest, who is currently traveling through Wisconsin on her way to find an apartment. She just landed a job in the Appleton area.

We’ve been teasing her about living in Wisconsin and becoming a cheese connoisseur, although I don’t know why given she attended college in La Crosse.

I suggested that she carry a cheese cutter lest Wisconsin officials stop her at the border. We even discussed whether the door into her apartment will unlock via a cheese cutter rather than a key.

Oh, yes, we’re a silly bunch, aren’t we?

My family has nothing against Wisconsin; we kind of like that state and Wisconsin cheese.

But don’t expect my daughter to become a cheesehead. She’s been asked several times whether she will now become a Green Bay Packers fan. The answer is a resounding “NO!” Like me, she is not a sports person. But, if she was, I suppose she might consider switching her allegiance from the Vikings to the Packers.

I’ve heard, and my daughter has probably heard too, that the Vikings aren’t doing very well this season. Is that true? Like I said, we could care less about sports…

Maybe my daughter should have purchased one of these cheesehead hats from Cheddarheads in downtown La Crosse. They were showcased in an old bathtub painted like a Holstein when I was there in May.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Bargain vintage Thanksgiving candles November 20, 2010



Vintage Thanksgiving candles displayed in my home.


LOOK AT THESE SWEET vintage candles I purchased in a Redwood Falls thrift store in August.

Now, if I was running this business, I may have waited to sell these holiday candles closer to Thanksgiving. I also may have priced them higher than 50 cents each.

But the shop owner neither waited nor over-priced these candles. I was fortunate enough to find and snap up the bargain collectibles.

My daughters think the candles are ugly and weird. I don’t share their opinion.

I find these kitschy candles festive. They make me smile. And I bet when I host Thanksgiving dinner, more than one guest will comment on the candles and ask where I got them.

In case you’re wondering, I will not put fire to the never-been-burned wicks. These candles are purely for decoration and for the enjoyment of those who appreciate ugly, weird, kitschy, festive candles.



An up-close look at those two collectible Thanksgiving candles.


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Photographing barns November 19, 2010


A barn between Morristown and Waseca in a photo I shot last Sunday.


HARRIET TRAXLER OF CARVER has done exactly what I would someday like to accomplish. She has photographed a county full of barns and self-published 19 books, including two versions of Barns of Sibley County and books for each of the county’s 17 townships. She’s also created a 2011 barn calendar.

Traxler photographed 1,100-plus barns.

I’ll write more about Traxler’s barn project in a future post because I’ve only skimmed two of her books. The pair just arrived in my mailbox yesterday.

But I’m so giddy about what I’ve seen that I couldn’t wait to tell you. Anyone who loves old barns will absolutely appreciate Traxler’s books and her efforts to preserve barns through photography.

Now that I’ve shared my excitement over those barn books, I’ll show you a few more barn photos that I shot last Sunday along Rice County Highway 16 and Waseca County Highway 7 between Morristown and Waseca. These were taken through car windows—no waiting for the right lighting, no stopping to compose them. They are what they are and I think worthy of sharing with you. Enjoy.



Barn along Waseca County Highway 7



The driver's side rear car window frames this barn scene in a quick shot.



A machine shed with a barn-like appearance. Love the roof line.



Near the intersection of Waseca County Highway 7 and Minnesota Highway 13.


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling