Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflections on 2012 from Minnesota Prairie Roots December 31, 2012

ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS present a time to reflect. So on this, the final day of 2012, I’ve considered the past year, what’s been most significant in my personal life and for me as a blogger.

My 18-year-old son, shortly before my husband and I left him in his dorm room on the campus of North Dakota State University four weeks ago.

Our 18-year-old son, shortly before my husband and I left him in his dorm room on the campus of North Dakota State University in mid-August.

This year marked a time of transition for my husband and me from the full-time job of parenting, a position we’ve held for 26 consecutive years, to becoming empty-nesters. The youngest of our three children, our son, started college in August. The past 4 ½ months have been a period of adapting for all of us. But it’s gone well. Although I miss our boy, the letting go process has been easier than I thought. And for our son, even though he would not admit it, I think he’s missed us a tad more than he imagined.

Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982

My husband, Randy, and me on our wedding day, May 15, 1982.

Prior to that, in May, Randy and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. I cannot even fathom how three decades have soared past, snap, like that. But I am thankful to have lived them with the man I cherish and love. That reminds me of this little story from yesterday, when we were shopping for window treatments. The associate assisting us complimented us on how well we were getting along, noting that disagreements between some couples often get so intense he simply needs to step away. Not that Randy and I don’t disagree—we do. But we always manage to work things out.

I love this sweet image of Amber and Marc taken after my son's high school commencement.

I love this sweet image of Amber and Marc taken after my son’s high school commencement.

This year also brought love into the life of our oldest daughter, Amber, who met Marc, now the love of her life. I never realized, until this happened, how happy I would feel as a mother to see my girl so happy.

Some of the guest gathered in the Vesta Community Hall for my mom's 80th birthday party.

Some of the guests gathered in the Vesta Community Hall for my mom’s 80th birthday party open house.

The celebration of my mother’s 80th birthday in April, several weeks before her actual birth date, was also defined by love. My mom is the most kind-hearted person I know. And to see the community hall in my hometown filled with family and friends who came to show her their love filled my heart to overflowing with gratitude. This open house party was the best gift we, her family, could ever have given her, even if the party ended early due to a tornado warning. You can read two posts about the party by clicking here and then clicking here.

During 2012, I continue to be gifted with a faithful and growing readership here at Minnesota Prairie Roots. My blog has been viewed this past year 290,000 times by readers from 186 countries. Such support humbles me. I also am honored, even surprised, that I continue to find success in writing poetry. This has been a good year for me in poetry.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Friends, Nimo Abdi, a sophomore at Faribault High School, left, and Nasteho Farah, a senior.

Within the realm of writing, specifically here on this blog, I had no difficulty choosing my favorite post of 2012: Yearning for respect & equality, “no matter what color you are.” In that post, I featured photos from the International Festival Faribault and interviews with several teenaged Somali immigrants. It was an especially powerful piece, both in portraits and in the honest and troubling words spoken by these young people who face discrimination in my community. To this day, it hurts my heart to read this post. I’d encourage every single one of you to read or reread that story by clicking here.

The south side of the house roof, reshingled.

The south side of our house roof, reshingled.

The post which drew the most comments, and the most heated comments, this year, Why I am not getting a kitchen redo, totally surprised me. I never expected to hear from so many readers who empathized with our experience related to defective shingles. If you haven’t read that post, click here. However, if you prefer to keep your blood pressure low, skip this story.

Creative freedom of speech

Creative freedom of speech along Interstate 94 in west central Minnesota.

A political post, Driving home a political point along a Minnesota interstate, produced the most views, 3,288 in a single day. Typically I avoid politics. But, when I spotted a limo driven front end first into the ground along Interstate 94 near Alexandria in a statement about the direction in which President Obama is driving this country, I had to post photos. The post was picked up by reddit.com, which generated the high viewership. (Click here to read this post.)

This concludes my review of 2012. It’s been a good year, filled with love, change, constancy and, most definitely, many blessings.

WHAT DEFINED YOUR YEAR?

© Copyright 2012

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And how did I like that classical music concert? December 30, 2012

A FEW WEEKS AGO, my husband phoned from work. He’d just won two tickets to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert at the Xcel Energy Center, compliments of Power 96, KQCL, a Faribault radio station. (Some of you may remember this from a previous post.)

Oh, my gosh, was I excited. I love classical music.

But as apparently everyone on this earth knows, except me, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a rock band. Who would have thought with a name like that?

So I figured I may as well confess my lack of musical knowledge, which I did in a December 12 post. For those of you who have not read that first amusing story, click here for a good laugh.

Secondly, you should know that I have not attended a rock concert in perhaps 30 years, the last one being a performance by The Moody Blues at the old St. Paul Civic Center.

Just sayin’ that I’m not exactly a music expert.

A view of the stage in the background and performers in the foreground elevated onto tiny platforms. I apologize for the horrible images, but DSLR cameras are not allowed into a concert venue and I don't own a compact camera. This image and the second were taken with my cell phone.

A view of the stage in the background and performers in the foreground elevated onto tiny platforms. I apologize for the horrible images, but DSLR cameras were not allowed into the concert venue and I don’t own a compact camera. This image and the second were taken with my cell phone. You can only imagine how many times I repeated, “I wish I had my camera.”

So what did I think of “The Lost Christmas Eve” concert by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra? In all honesty, I was more impressed by the light and pyrotechnics show than by the music or the storyline.

I know. I know. Those of you who really, really love the Trans-Siberian Orchestra will wonder, “What the heck? Did she attend the same concert as me?”

Apparently I prefer my music quiet, as in the outstanding “O Come, All Ye Faithful” solo by one of the band members versus the drum banging, steel guitar blazing mashed sound of a song I can’t even understand. I found it interesting that the reverent solo I most enjoyed received the loudest and longest audience applause of the concert.

Yes, there were a lot of gray hairs attending the show, along with a mix of other ages. Just sayin’, we may have favored Led Zepplin in our days (that would be you, Chuck, our concert neighbor), but now some of us wear ear plugs to rock concerts. My husband and I are raising our hands here. I bet the woman from Prior Lake sitting behind us wished she had brought hers, too.

Again, a bad photo, but at least it gives you some idea of the amazing light show and fabulous showmanship of this concert.

Again, a bad photo, but at least it gives you some idea of the amazing light show and fabulous showmanship of this concert.

For awhile there, until my eyes and brain adjusted, I also wondered if I should have brought sunglasses. Those strobe lights were pretty intense. But, once I settled in, I was enamored by the light show and the fire. The flames were so high and intense that the heat wafted to the back of the auditorium where we were seated.

About those seats…we were directly facing the stage; the location could not have been better. But who planned the width of these seats and the leg room? Honestly, I felt wedged into my chair and worried about knocking our large-sized $9.25 shared beer from the cup holder.

I worried, too, a bit about the performers who were elevated onto tiny towering platforms both on-stage and near our end of the concert venue. I bet they really felt the heat when fiery jets flamed near them. That was pretty cool even if it was hot. Got that?

All in all, my husband and I reached this conclusion: The Trans-Siberian Orchestra presented a good concert. Our tickets were free. We were happy.

But would we pay to see this group perform again? Probably not.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Don’t ask Santa, ask Grandma in the home of champions December 29, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:09 PM
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BILLBOARDS, ESPECIALLY THOSE in rural Minnesota, fascinate me.

The signs impress me as more interesting, more focused, quirkier, it seems, and zeroed in on a specific geographical region. The messages, the art, can reveal much about an area and often make me smile, sometimes even laugh.

This creative real estate billboard in Sleepy Eye, at the intersections of U.S. Highway 14 and Minnesota Highway 4, makes me smile. A nearby sign boasts the local high school's athletic accomplishments.

This creative real estate billboard, right, in Sleepy Eye, at the intersections of U.S. Highway 14 and Minnesota Highway 4, makes me smile. A nearby sign boasts athletic accomplishments at Sleepy Eye and St. Mary’s high schools.

Additionally, many small towns take great pride in the local high school’s athletic accomplishments, even from decades ago.

Although many small towns brag about local sporting accomplishments, I would like to occasionally drive into a community and also read a sign boasting of academic, musical, theatrical or other accomplishments.

Wouldn’t that be nice to see in our sports-obsessed world?

Imagine reading a sign like “Home of the 2012 Minnesota State Spelling Bee Champion” or something like that.

HAS ANYONE OUT THERE ever spotted a sign in a community highlighting non-athletic accomplishments at the high school level?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The educating & healing continue 150 years after The U.S.-Dakota War December 28, 2012

STUDYING MINNESOTA HISTORY decades ago, I learned about “The Sioux Uprising of 1862” and even wrote a term paper on the topic bearing that title.

This archway leads to the Wood Lake State Monument, on the site of the battle which ended the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862.

This archway leads to the Wood Lake State Monument, on the site of the battle which ended the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862.

I thought nothing negative of that word, Sioux, which translates to “snake.” The Ojibway, once enemies of the Dakota, gave the tribe that name. I did not know; it was the word I was taught.

That I even studied “The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862,” the proper terminology for the six-week war fought primarily in my native southwestern Minnesota 150 years ago, seems remarkable. So many in Minnesota never knew of this conflict in our state’s history.

I don’t pretend to know every detail of the war between the Dakota and the white settlers and soldiers. But I do remember that I grew up with a fear of “Indians,” reinforced by the television westerns especially popular during my formative years and by the history lessons delivered about The Sioux Uprising of 1862, as it was then called.

Those classroom lessons were decidedly one-sided: The whites were the good guys, the Indians the bad guys. That line of thinking was wrong, oh, so wrong. I realize that now, having reached that conclusion decades ago.

The maltreatment of the Dakota by greedy traders, broken treaty promises, starvation, efforts to convert and transform the Dakota people into Christian farmers, expulsion from their homeland and more contributed to the war.

Yet, even the Dakota disagreed about the need to wage this battle. Some helped settlers escape to safety while others plundered and killed. My own maternal forefathers fled the New Ulm area to St. Peter, making this war a part of my personal family history.

The Milford State Monument along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm commemorates the deaths of 52 settlers who were killed in the area. Located along the eastern edge of the Lower Sioux Reservation, Milford had the highest war death rate of any single township.

The Milford State Monument along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm commemorates the deaths of 52 settlers who were killed in the area. Located along the eastern edge of the Lower Sioux Reservation, Milford had the highest war death rate of any single township.

While I carry no ill will toward the Dakota, I will tell you, unequivocally, that feelings still run deep in southwestern Minnesota. I am also honest enough to admit that perhaps I would feel differently if my family members had been massacred or if I was of Dakota, instead of German, heritage.

Although time can heal, it doesn’t always. Misconceptions and misguided expectations, even after 150 years, exist on multiple sides of the issue. I won’t delve into that here, but I do think the healing is still ongoing, forgiveness (on both sides) still not attained.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on Dec. 26, 1862.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on Dec. 26, 1862. On Wednesday, a new Dakota 38 Memorial was dedicated listing the names of the 38 men who died here. This file photo was taken of an existing plaque in the park.

In a ceremony in Mankato on Wednesday marking the 150th anniversary of the hanging of 38 Dakota, Mayor Eric Anderson proclaimed this the year of “forgiveness and understanding.”

The Dakota also called upon all to “forgive everyone everything.” Those words will be engraved into Kasota stone benches to be installed next summer at the site of the new Dakota 38 Memorial dedicated in Reconciliation Park on Wednesday.

Strides toward understanding and forgiveness, and education, can perhaps finally heal the still festering wounds of this long ago war.

TO VIEW PHOTOS from the event in Mankato on Wednesday, click to link here to Minnesota Public Radio.

TELL ME, ESPECIALLY if you grew up in Minnesota, did you study The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862? Also, are Minnesota students today being taught about this war?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A sister’s love, more precious than jewels December 27, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:53 AM
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ONCE UPON A TIME, in the land of Prairieville, an aging princess (in name only) arrived at the country estate of her middle brother just days before Christmas.

Unbeknownst to the princess, her middle sister, who is nothing like Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters and who also had journeyed from a yonder land, planned for the princess the most splendid surprise.

The princess had just shrugged off her pea coat and greeted her family when Sir Stephen stepped forward to present a present to the stunned princess. Thinking perhaps that her fun-loving nephew was about to play a prank upon her, as family members are sometimes wont to do, the princess accepted the gift with trepidation.

The first gift package, from Nixie, Fairy of Water.

The first gift package, from Nixie, Fairy of Water.

She pulled a dainty tissue-wrapped package from a gift envelope, allowing the tiny package to fall onto the floor for fear of what she may discover inside. With great care, she soon retrieved and unwrapped the gift. A lovely ring fell into her palm.

Before the princess could even slip the jewel onto her finger, another family member stepped forward with a present, followed by nine more packages into which child-size rings had been tucked.

By that time, the princess had determined that her kind-hearted sister, Lanae, had hatched the entire marvelous scheme to write a happily-ever-after ending to a story which began decades earlier on a Prairieville farm.

Many years ago, when the princess was much younger, she lost an emerald ring (not a “real” emerald, of course) gifted to her by her godmother. Despite a frantic search of the family farm, the precious jewel was never found. The princess was overcome with inconsolable sadness and never forgot that lost ring.

A sampling of the rings gifted to me by 11 fairies. These will be passed along to some sweet little girls I know.

A sampling of the rings gifted to me by 11 fairies. These will be passed along to some sweet little girls I know.

Because all fairy tales should end happily, the princess’s loving sister, Lanae, gathered, from various fairies of the world, a collection of fine jewels. Nixie, Fairy of Water; the White, Frost, Tooth, Sugar Plum, Woodland, Snowflake and Ice fairies; the Queen of the Fairies; The Little Fairy Fayette; and Tinkerbell all contributed gems to the cause.

The final ring, an "emerald," to replace the one I lost nearly 50 years ago.

The final ring, an “emerald,” to replace the one I lost nearly 50 years ago.

After the princess had unwrapped 11 packages of child-sized rings, a final box was presented to her from the Fairy Godmother. Inside, the princess found a sparkling imitation emerald, even more beautiful than the one she had lost on her childhood farm nearly 50 years earlier.

The aging princess was overcome with joy as she slipped the emerald ring onto her finger and raced to embrace her sister whose kind heart overflows with goodness and love.

THE END

THANK YOU, LANAE, for blessing me with this wonderful gift. I appreciate the thought, time and effort you put into pulling off this royal surprise. You made me feel like a real princess and I shall always cherish this gift of the heart from you to me.

TO READ my first posting about the lost ring of my youth, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Loving Christmas with family December 26, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:08 AM
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My husband Randy and me with our three adult children, from left to right, Miranda, Caleb and Amber.

My husband Randy and me with our three adult children, from left to right, Miranda, Caleb and Amber.

IF YOU WANT to make a mom happy, return home for Christmas.

My three, plus the eldest daughter's boyfriend, Marc, opened gifts Christmas Eve afternoon. Caleb is juggling on the left with his new juggling balls.

My three, plus the eldest daughter’s boyfriend, Marc, opened a few gifts Christmas Eve afternoon before Miranda had to leave. Caleb is juggling on the left with his new juggling balls.

All three of my children were able to get back to Faribault for the holidays, although my second daughter had to leave early Christmas Eve afternoon. She was on-call Christmas Day with her job as a Spanish medical interpreter in northeastern Wisconsin. But I had her here for awhile and that made me one joyful mother.

Ditto for my mom.

After taking numerous "good photos," we decided to imitate six-month-old Hank (the first great grandchild for my mother) by closing our eyes. Missing from the photo is Alex, the photographer.

After taking numerous “good photos,” we decided to imitate six-month-old Hank (the first great grandchild for my mother) by closing our eyes and pretending to sleep. Missing from the photo is Alex, the photographer.

For the first time in many years, all six of her children and their spouses and their children, plus the first great grandchild and significant others, gathered for a pre-Christmas family celebration at my middle brother’s rural Lamberton home.

One of my favorite candid shots, my son embracing his grandma, whom he had not seen since July Fourth.

One of my favorite candid shots, my son embracing his grandma, whom he had not seen since July Fourth.

My mom repeated many times, before and after the get together, how very happy she was that everyone could make it. All but four could stay for the entire day and into the evening.

Santa shows up every year at the family Christmas. Here he hugs my second daughter. He handed out cans of SPAM to me and my siblings apparently to celebrate all the SPAM we consumed as children.

Santa shows up every year at the family Christmas. Here he hugs my second daughter. He handed out cans of SPAM to me and my siblings apparently to celebrate all the SPAM we consumed as children.

We took lots and lots and lots of pictures, as my eldest daughter’s boyfriend noted. I believe, I mean I know, he was slightly overwhelmed by the entire event. Who wouldn’t you be when you’re not used to my loud and fun-loving family, most of whom bunk out on the basement floor after the day’s festivities end?

Last year my sister Lanae brought vintage hats for all the women to wear. Here most of the granddaughters pose with grandma.

Last year my sister Lanae brought vintage hats for the women. Here most of the granddaughters model their hats with grandma.

I love my family. And I love that my 80-year-old mom experienced the joy of having her closest loved ones with her for a single day to celebrate Christmas.

I decided the men needed hats, too, so I brought Santa hats for them to model in a serious pose.

I decided the boys needed hats, too, so I brought Santa hats for them to wear, here in a serious pose.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Are you able to gather with extended family to celebrate Christmas and what are some of your traditions?

Santa always poses for a photo with my mom.

Santa always poses for a photo with my mom.

Hank, the first baby in the family in 11 years, was the center of much attention.

Hank, the first baby in the family in 11 years, was the center of much attention.

My sister Lanae gifted our brothers, Brian and Brad, with Kitty Piddle and Dog Drool.

My sister Lanae gifted our brothers, Brian and Brad, with Kitty Piddle and Dog Drool. I also received red hot sauce from her and one fabulous gift I will tell you about in another post.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

CHRISTmas blessings December 25, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:05 AM
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This Nativity scene has graced the lawn of Buckham Memorial Library and the Faribault Community Center for all the years I have lived in my southeastern Minnesota community, which would be 30.

This Nativity scene has graced the lawn of Buckham Memorial Library and the Faribault Community Center for all the years I have lived in my southeastern Minnesota community, which would be 30.

FROM MY FAMILY to yours, I wish you a most blessed CHRISTmas. And, yes, I capitalize that first syllable because the Saviour centers my Christmas celebration and I hope it does yours also.

This Nativity set, donated, I believe, by the Knights of Columbus, is a rich part of my community's history and a work of art. If anyone knows the history of this Nativity set, please submit a comment with details.

This Nativity set, donated, I believe, by the local Knights of Columbus, is a rich part of my community’s history and a work of art. If anyone knows the history of this Nativity, please submit a comment with details.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

One side of the scene shows the shepherds in the stable.

One side of the scene shows the shepherds in the stable.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you: he is Christ The Lord.”

Although the wise men did not arrive at the birth of Christ, they are typically depicted in nativities. I added the "star" with an editing tool to enhance the image.

Although the wise men did not arrive at the birth of Christ,  but much later, they are typically depicted in nativity scenes. I added the “star” with an editing tool to enhance the image.

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

Can you imagine the reverent joy the wise men felt in seeing their Saviour?

Can you imagine the reverent joy the wise men felt in worshiping their Saviour?

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Click here to learn more about the wise men and when they visited the Christ Child.)

© Photos copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Text credit goes to gospel writers Matthew and Luke.