Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts as the year ends & a new one begins December 31, 2015

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I hope your year has been a mostly good one. Hope. That was my chosen focus word for 2015 and will remain my focus word into 2016.

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which I got at a recent family reunion.

My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which I chose as a BINGO prize at a family reunion. Since then, I’ve had her paint a similar HOPE stone for a friend going through a difficult time. This HOPE stone sits on my office desk.

A strong visual reminder of hope sits on my office desk. It is a HOPE stone, crafted by a great niece.

There are days when we all need hope. Whether you are dealing with financial challenges, health issues, relationship difficulties, a personal loss, grief or anything else that weighs you down, may you see HOPE in the New Year. The flip of the calendar offers the opportunity to begin anew.

In four months, a baby girl will be born, making me a grandma. She is reason for joy. A new life. A new beginning for my eldest and her husband. A new beginning for me and my husband as grandparents.

May you, too, dear readers, find such joys in 2016.

Thank you for being a part of my life, for sharing your thoughts, for encouraging and supporting me and my writing and photography. I am grateful as 2015 closes and a new year unfurls full of possibilities and hope.


© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


On the road in rural Minnesota December 30, 2015

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Bales on trailer, 91 along hwy 14


ROUNDING A CURVE along U.S. Highway 14 northeast bound into Sleepy Eye, the pick-up truck lugged a cargo of 14 round bales on a recent Sunday morning.


Bales on trailer, 84 going up hill


As it labored up the hill past the Sleepy Eye Golf Club, I wondered whether the top bales would remain in place. They appeared untethered. My husband and I were following two vehicles behind.


Bales on trailer, 82 with bins nearby


But the bales stayed put as the truck and trailer topped the hill, curved past grain bins and bumped along the highway through downtown Sleepy Eye where the vehicle in front of us turned, putting our van directly behind the mound of bales.


Bales on trailer, 89 in downtown Sleepy Eye


I was hoping we wouldn’t have to follow this wide load too far, especially not all the way to New Ulm. Passing along this section of highway is often challenging under the best of circumstances. And this was not ideal with bales hanging nearly over the center line and a non-functioning left trailer brake light.


Bales on trailer, 93 turning


On the east edge of town, the driver veered his truck to the county road on the right. I was thankful, especially when I visually confirmed that the top four bales were unsecured. The bales, Randy noted, weren’t going anywhere. Maybe. Maybe not.

In the back of my mind I remembered the ice that slid from a semi trailer along Interstate 35 four days prior. That ice missiled across the median and into the driver’s side window of our van. Bam, just like that. The glass didn’t shatter nor even crack. But it was enough to scare us, or at least me. The thought of a heavy round bale tumbling into the path of our van seemed equally as frightening.

Have you had a similar experience on the roadway or observed a situation you considered unsafe while traveling? I bet you have some unbelievable stories. Go ahead. Share.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Scenes along Minnesota State Highway 99 December 29, 2015

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Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 near Cleveland #2


MINNESOTA STATE HIGHWAY 99 rolls through farm country and small towns from northeast of Faribault to Nicollet.


Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 farmsite near Cleveland


I call it the back road to my native southwestern Minnesota. It’s the route my husband and I take to vary our travel or to avoid U.S. Highway 14 road construction and/or traffic between Mankato and Nicollet.

Usually we are in a hurry , which allows no time to explore. It is a sad fact of much travel these days. But even in haste, I notice details.


Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 bridge over MN River in St. Peter


When Randy mentioned that the Highway 99 bridge over the Minnesota River in St. Peter is due for replacement, I snapped a photo just as were about to cross it. I love bridges like this with architectural character. The 1931 steel truss bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places and slated for rehab (not replacement) in 2017, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation website.


Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 Swedish Imports sign in St. Peter


Waiting at a stoplight just across the bridge in the heart of downtown St. Peter, I turned my camera lens to a Swedish Imports sign, noting that we really must stop here sometime.


Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 Schmidt Meat Market sign in Nicollet


To the west of St. Peter in Nicollet, I photographed a sign for Schmidt’s Meat Market as we drove through town. The market has become a destination for many. We stopped there once. I popped inside, but quickly retreated to the car. Most people like the smokey smell of a meat market. I don’t. But that’s OK. We’re all different, with distinct tastes, likes and dislikes. That keeps the route through life varied and interesting.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Lighting up the holidays in rural Faribault December 28, 2015

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WHEN OUR KIDS were little, we made it a late December tradition to drive around Faribault viewing residential holiday light displays. It is a lovely, cherished family memory that connects to my childhood. Each December, my parents, five siblings and I packed into our Chevy and twisted through the Tangle Town neighborhood of Redwood Falls to see the lights.

Fast forward to 2015. My three kids are now adults, two of whom live out of state. Only one was home on Christmas Day. Three evenings before Christmas, my husband slid behind the wheel of our Chevy. I buckled into the front passenger seat. And the college son folded into the backseat. We were on our way to view a rural holiday light display about two miles east of Faribault.


Holiday lights, 6 trees and stars


Pulling into the driveway at Cathy Hoban and Pat Spence’s place, a sign advised us to tune into 103.1 FM and to turn on our parking lights. Before us, lights flashed as the magic unfolded.


Holiday lights, 15 1939 Ford pick-up truck


From towering Christmas trees to stars, Santa, snowmen, reindeer, candy canes, a Nativity and even a light-bedecked 1939 Ford pick-up truck, this dazzling music-synchronized show is wondrous.


Holiday lights, 17 circling the driveway


Randy crept the Chevy along at a snail’s pace, then stopped so we could take it all in. I stepped outside the car to snapshot the scene, hoping for a few good frames. He followed the circle drive then retraced his route.


Holiday lights, 14 star atop tree


We were mostly silent as we watched and listened, delighting in this gift from Cathy and Pat to the Faribault community. The couple loves Christmas. And it shows in the strings and strings and strings of colorful lights, in the effort it takes to put this all together, in the creativity and music.


Holiday lights, 21 reindeer


I couldn’t help but smile and feel propelled into the Christmas spirit while touring here. And I felt, too, the connection between past and present, in memories remembered and those being formed.


Holiday lights, 9 Nativity


How about you, do you drive around your community, or elsewhere, to view holiday light displays?

FYI: Cathy and Pat’s holiday light show is open from 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. daily through the holidays. However, because of warm temps, which led to a muddy driveway, the display closed some evenings. That shouldn’t be a problem this week. The address: 4531 197th Street East, Faribaut.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Wishing you a Merry Christmas December 25, 2015

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This paper Baby Jesus and an angel go on my Christmas tree each other. They are from the 1960s, from my Sunday School Christmas lesson.

This paper Baby Jesus goes on my Christmas tree each year. It is from the 1960s, from my Sunday School Christmas lesson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

MY DEAR READERS, I wish you a most blessed Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Christ. May peace, joy and love be yours. Merry Christmas!

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Decorating my home with holiday memories December 24, 2015

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VISIT MY HOME DURING THE CHRISTMAS SEASON, and you won’t find Martha Stewart perfect holiday decorations. Rather, you will discover an eclectic mix of Nativity scenes, Santas, angels and more. There’s no color scheme, no continuity, except in the memories.

This was crafted by my Grandpa Bode decades ago.

My Grandpa Bode crafted this Nativity set decades ago. He made them for family and also sold them.

Memories thread through each item I display. My maternal grandfather crafted the Nativity scene positioned atop the living room entertainment center. He built and painted the stable and then molded Baby Jesus and the rest of the Bethlehem crew from Plaster of Paris. Mary’s right hand is broken. The camel is missing. But I don’t care. This is my most treasured of scenes depicting Christ’s birth.

A beautiful cross-stitch of Baby Jesus.

A beautiful cross-stitch of Baby Jesus.

Last year my mom, who collected Nativities, gave nearly all of them to her children and grandchildren after moving into an assisted living apartment. I chose a grouping of six Nativity cards cross-stitched by my cousin Traci and mailed each Christmas. My mom was also an avid cross-stitcher, thus these hold double significance.

This angel candle is more than 50 years old.

This dusty angel candle is more than 50 years old.

I also cherish three angel candles, which belonged to Mom. Fire has never, nor will it ever, touch the wicks. The angels are dusty and not all that beautiful. But I remember Mom setting them out every Christmas.

The largest of the candles in my vintage holiday collection.

The largest of the candles in my vintage holiday collection, Santa stands about five inches tall.

Likewise, I set out Santa and snowman candles acquired in the early 1970s at a family holiday party. They are from my Aunt Ardyce. Like the candle angels, these will never see a flame.

Homemade cards, especially from my kids, are cherished.

Homemade cards, especially from my kids (now grown), are cherished.

And then there’s the Christmas card crafted by my kids. I expect Miranda magic markered the scene signed by all three. It’s a treasure from their childhoods. Such sweetness.

Charlie Brown would be proud of my Christmas tree choice.

Charlie Brown would be proud of my Christmas tree choice. The tree is not yet fully decorated in this image.

Finally, the Christmas tree in our house is chosen not for its perfect shape, but rather for its resemblance to the tree of my childhood Christmases. (The husband, kindly and wisely, agrees with my choice.) Ours is a “Charlie Brown” tree. Uneven and with bare spaces, the short-needled tree plays on my nostalgic memories of the tiny tree that sat on the end of our Formica kitchen table. The tree seemed plenty big back when I was a kid living in a farmhouse much too small for a family of seven. Yet, the tinseled tree seemed magically perfect. Just like my $15 tree, hauled from Duluth and purchased in a Faribault tree lot.

Tell me about your holiday décor. How do you decorate for the Christmas season? Do you display any items that hold special significance?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A message for Santa & all of us December 22, 2015

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Dear Santa message in New Ulm, 95


WHEN I SPOTTED THIS MESSAGE to Santa while traveling through New Ulm on Saturday en route to a family Christmas gathering, I laughed. What a humorous way to draw attention to a real estate company, I thought.

But then I thought some more about that message after reading a magazine article titled “5 times when you should hold your tongue.” The writer of the piece in Real Simple advised that diplomacy, tact and a lot of silence can go a long way. In other words, think before you speak or write.  That’s great advice.

You may think it’s your sister’s fault when, in reality, it isn’t. Perception is not always truth.

I’m a big proponent of listening. I truly believe if we all chose to listen, rather than jump to conclusions, many disagreements would never happen. But in the heat of the moment, when we feel we’ve been wronged, we fail to hear anyone’s voice but our own. That is the precise time when we need to clamp our lips, lift fingertips from keyboards and cell phones and consider that, yes, there’s another side to this story. Once hurtful words are written or spoken, they cannot be taken back.

The holidays are a great time to reconnect with family. But such gatherings can also prove stressful. Travel, too much alcohol, lack of sleep, changes in routine, strong personalities, perceived grievances and more can fuel disagreements. It’s all too easy to lash out with angry words. Don’t. Just don’t.

I tend to fade into the background at family gatherings. I’m quiet and reserved. I listen more than I speak. I prefer to talk one-on-one with family members rather than wedge my voice into a conversation dominated by strong personalities in a roomful of people.

It’s important to remember that only in silence can you listen.

Would Santa rather read “It was my sister’s fault!” or “I’m sorry I was mean to my sister?”


Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


When you’re not into Star Wars December 21, 2015

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MY KNOWLEDGE OF STAR WARS is limited. I would recognize Darth Vader if I saw him on the street. I know there’s a Princess Someone or Other. And Luke Skywalker. Yes, I remember that name. But that’s about it.

I grew up watching Lost in Space on TV with characters like Judy, Penny, Will, Don and the evil Dr. Smith. And a robot whose name may have been Robot.

You never know what art will be showcased in Hot Sam's Interstate 35 display. I've seen a shark, guitar, submarine...

You never know what art will be showcased in Hot Sam’s Interstate 35 display. I’ve seen a shark, guitar, submarine…and now this spaceship.

Sci-Fi, though, as an adult, is not my genre. Still, I had to wonder about the spaceship suspended in an artsy display along Interstate 35 at Hot Sam’s Antiques near Lakeville, south of Minneapolis. I last visited Hot Sam’s in 2012. This one-of-a-kind place features an eclectic mix of art and old stuff scattered over several acres.

The hovering spaceship.

Hot Sam’s hovering spaceship.

Recently, the spaceship was added to the highly-visible hilltop Interstate collection. I thought perhaps it was a Star Wars ship replica. At this point, feel free to laugh. My son may have snickered when I asked. “Uh, no, Mom.” he said.

To all you Star Wars fans, my apologies.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thoughts from Faribault in the week before Christmas December 19, 2015

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Historic buildings in downtown Faribault are decorated for the holiday season.

Historic buildings in downtown Faribault are decorated for the holiday season.

MY COMMUNITY OF FARIBAULT offers an array of holiday events ranging from theatrical productions to a holiday figure skating show, concerts and more. Each year I try to take in some of those activities not only because I enjoy them, but because it’s important to pause in the busyness of the season. We can get so wrapped up in gifts and decorations, baking and other holiday stuff that stress, rather than joy, dominates our days.

This rendition of Linus, on loan from the Faribault Woolen Mill, stood in the lobby of the Paradise Center for the Arts during the recent holiday play.

This rendition of Linus, on loan from the Faribault Woolen Mill, stood in the lobby of the Paradise Center for the Arts during the recent holiday play.

Months ago, upon learning that the Paradise Community Theatre was performing Twice the Cheer: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and A Charlie Brown Christmas in a single showing, I purchased four tickets to a Sunday matinee performance. I invited my eldest daughter and her husband to join my husband and me. Twenty-four years ago, Amber and her little sister played Baby Angels in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at our church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault. Thus, this play means something to our family.

The Paradise version wasn’t exactly like the one produced at my church. It was updated with the main characters, a family of unruly and outcast children, modernized. It worked. They were believable and memorable.

Yet, for me, the most memorable line in the play (and I can’t recall who said it) referenced Mary and Joseph as refugees. I’d never thought of them in that way and it seems particularly fitting given the world today. There are times in life when we all feel somewhat displaced, whether by circumstances or challenges or an actual physical move. Sometimes life is just plain hard.

Skaters pose for photos after presenting The Chronicles of Narnia.

Skaters pose for photos after presenting The Chronicles of Narnia.

Which is precisely why it’s helpful to occasionally escape into a make-believe world. And that I did during the recent holiday figure skating show at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault. The annual December performance is a free gift to the community. This year students presented their version of The Chronicles of Narnia. I’ve never read the fantasy book series nor seen the movie, which left me clueless. Still, I could admire the young women gliding across the ice, twirling and skating with the carefree abandon of youth.

Beauty in the details of a holiday themed outdoor arrangement in downtown Faribault outside Bluebird Cakery.

Beauty in the details of a holiday themed outdoor arrangement outside Bluebird Cakery in downtown Faribault.

In these final days before Christmas, I hope you take the time to slow down, to savor the moments, to appreciate the people around you, to do something thoughtful for a “refugee” (someone in need) in your community.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling





© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


He’s home from Boston for Christmas December 18, 2015

MSP Airport, 16 Delta 2


WAITING IN THE CELL PHONE LOT at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport late Thursday morning, I watched plane after plane after plane land and take-off.


MSP Airport, 22 low flying airliner


Mostly, though, I focused my eyes on planes flying in from the east. A United Airlines flight would bring my 21-year-old son home from Boston, via Washington D.C.


MSP Airport, 15 Southwest



He always takes connecting flights to save money. And he usually flies Southwest. But this time, for whatever reason (probably cost), he chose United.


MSP Airport, 14 Delta 1


More than five months have passed since I’ve seen my son, a senior at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Too long. Too many miles between us. I am grateful, though, for text messages, phone calls, emails and Skype.


MSP Airport, 17 Sun Country


On this bone-chilling December morning, I waited, with my husband scratching numbers into his Sudoku book, me photographing planes arriving and leaving MSP. I wondered a few times if security was watching me, questioning why the woman inside the white van was photographing planes.


MSP Airport, 12 United Express


Finally, I spotted a United Express flight that matched the son’s text message description from DC: “I’m on a tiny plane to Minneapolis. I had to walk out into the tarmac in order to board.”


MSP Airport, 29 almost to terminal 1


Soon my cell phone buzzed with the news that he had landed. And then we waited another 32 minutes for his message to drive to Terminal 1 for pick-up at Door 5.


Driving home from MSP Airport, 36


He is home now as I write this at 2:40 p.m. Thursday. He’s fed. Dirty clothes are in the wash. I am a happy mama.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling