Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A creative rooftop Halloween attraction in Faribault October 31, 2022

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

IT’S A HALLOWEEN ATTRACTION, a roadside oddity and creative marketing all rolled into one. That would be the gigantic rooftop ants and skeletons at Francis Animal & Pest Control along busy Lyndale Avenue North in Faribault.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Drive by the business and you’ll spot four over-sized red ants crawling on the roof and a fifth climbing a ladder, right behind a skeleton. Skeletons ride all the rooftop ants.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

A solo black ant creeps on the roof of the adjacent garage.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The ants have been in place for awhile. The skeletons are seasonally-new, ideal to celebrate Halloween.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

This staging of ants, and now skeletons, in a highly-visible location certainly attracts attention to a business that specializes in animal and pest control. The business website lists 23 insects, rodents, birds and small animals that it will rid from properties. That includes ants. And bats, lest you experience a Halloween invasion. Feral animals are also on the list, so that could include Halloween-attracting black feral cats.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

But skeletons? Nope, you’re on your own.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

FYI: To see the rooftop ants and skeletons, take Exit 59 off Interstate 35 onto Minnesota State Highway 21/Lyndale Avenue into Faribault. Drive about a mile and Francis Pest & Animal Control will be on the right side of the highway. You can get a close view from the service road or the recreational trail which runs right past the business. The pest control company is right next to White Sands Dog Park.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


About recycling, a hard truth & what we can do October 27, 2022

A graphic on a recycling dumpster in Northfield inspires. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

JUST INSIDE OUR GARAGE, a green plastic tote rests on a shelf. It’s located a few quick steps from the kitchen door, providing easy access to our temporary recycling box. Once the box fills, Randy dumps the contents into the official hideous dark-blue-with-bright-yellow-lid plastic recycling bin. Every other week the refuse hauler picks up our recyclables for delivery to the Rice County Recycling Center.

The City of Northfield “Youth Live Green Recycling Team” program aims to get youth involved in recycling corrugated cardboard. Participating groups get monetary funds for monitoring the public recycling containers, keeping the area clean and informing the public about cardboard recycling. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Now I should feel mostly good about that, right? I’m placing milk jugs and other plastics, cans, newspapers, envelopes, an excessive amount of campaign mailings, other paper products and more into recycling. I’m doing my part to keep stuff out of the landfill, to protect the environment.

Rules on a recycling container in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But when it comes to plastic, most of my efforts may be for naught, according to a recent report by the environmental education and awareness group Greenpeace. The nonprofit shared that less than five percent of recycled plastics are made into new products. Why? Simply put, it’s costly to collect and sort the plastics. I’m not surprised by that explanation. Money factors into most business decisions.

Youth and adults painted a mural on Just Food Co-op, Northfield. Among the themes, Mother Earth. Rice County Neighbors United led the grant-funded project. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Yet, I’ll continue to recycle and hope for an environmentally-friendly shift in attitudes on both consumer and corporate levels. We as consumers need to consciously choose non-plastics. I’m as guilty as anyone else in not thinking often enough about what I personally can do to reduce my use of plastics, focusing on reduce before I focus on recycle.

Mother Earth in progress on the Just Food Co-op mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

What am I doing right? This has nothing to do with plastic, but rather with reducing energy use. I either line dry my laundry outdoors or indoors on drying racks, with the exception of sheets and towels in the brutal cold of winter. Come a 40-degree sunny January day, though, and you will find my laundry on the line, snow layering the ground.

Mother Earth a month later. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I also buy used. And I donate or give away—rather than toss—items I no longer need. The boulevard along our busy street has proven an ideal location to give away a swing set, bookcase, headboard, recliner and much more. Recently Randy and I hauled several purple dove tail drawers from a vintage school art table to a downtown shop, Lily of the Valley. The owner sells repurposed furniture, gifts, clothing and more in her boutique and I figured she could use the drawers to display merchandise or come up with some other creative use. We kept the maple top to possibly reuse ourselves.

Then there’s our yard. We live in a city with a compost center, a place to haul leaves and plants that are composted, basically recycled back into a nutrient-rich natural fertilizer for flowerbeds and gardens. This time of year we make multiple trips to the compost site to dump off mulched leaves fallen from the single tree on our property and from neighborhood trees. I feel good that we are keeping yard waste out of the landfill. I use some of the leaves as winter mulch for my flowerbeds.

A shopper rolls out her cart of purchases in reusable bags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Sometimes I use cloth tote bags while grocery shopping, but sometimes I don’t. I could do better.

Northfield’s recycling containers are outside two grocery stores. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My efforts may not seem like much in the all of the environment. Yet, I know the recycling, the reusing, the things I do matter. What you do matters. Together we can make a difference by our choices.

TELL ME: Do you recycle? I’d like to hear more about your efforts to protect the environment.

FYI: To read the Greenpeace report on plastic recycling, click here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


So many reasons to value the arts in southern Minnesota & beyond October 26, 2022

“Rain” by Ivan Whillock priced at $3,000 and exhibited at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

TO HAVE ACCESS TO THE ARTS, whether visual, literary or performing, here in southern Minnesota is such a gift. The arts enrich our lives, open our minds to new ideas and experiences, feed our souls, entertain us and, for me, also inspire.

As someone who grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota with minimal exposure to the arts, I especially value galleries, theaters, libraries, and any place that gives me access to creativity. Creating with images and words is my passion and my life’s work. I embrace the work of fellow creatives, who, like me, must create.

Woodcarvings fill the main gallery at the Paradise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Recently, I stopped by the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. The PCA centers the arts in my community with four galleries, theater, music, art classes and more. Here in this space, creatives converge. And we as a community are the better for that. I hope those in neighboring Northfield, Owatonna, Waseca and even small town Montgomery, feel the same gratitude for their arts centers.

“Eileen” by Ivan Whillock, priced at $1,500. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The arts broaden our perspectives, make us think, laugh, cry, ponder… When I write and photograph, I feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment if my work resonates, prompts emotions, stirs interest and more. I expect the artists currently exhibiting at the Paradise feel the same. There is joy in getting art out there into the community, joy in connecting.

Marv Kaisersatt specializes in caricatures such as “Portrait of a Pig,” displayed but not for sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

As I meandered through the Paradise’s current exhibits, I observed incredible talent and variety in the art displayed. Inside the largest gallery, I meandered among woodcarvings by three Faribault artists, two carving for more than 40 years. Ivan Whillock and Marv Kaisersatt, are award-winning long-time carvers, nationally and internationally-recognized. Their work is decidedly different, but their creative skills decidedly the same—excellent. Both are quiet, humble men.

“Wood Spirit” by Chris Whillock, priced at $40. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Chris Whillock, Ivan’s son, is a talented carver in his own right. The pair create at Whillock Studio in Faribault and operate the Whittling Shack, source for woodcarving supplies, their art and more.

The plant-filled installment by Shelley Caldwell. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In one of the most unusual installments I’ve ever seen is the art of Shelley Caldwell who lives in rural Faribault County near the Iowa border. Her artistic use of plants to shape art left me standing temporarily immobile, wowed by her imaginative creativity. Peace comes in connecting with nature and I felt that in the scene before me—all that green interspersed with light, air and a sense of movement. Her exhibit also includes mixed media drawings.

Photos of Autumn Carolynn line a gallery wall at the Paradise Center for the Arts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The images of Minneapolis-based travel photographer and writer Autumn Carolynn are displayed in another gallery. Studying the work of other photographers, especially one as talented as Autumn, helps me grow my skills, even if I’m not a world traveler. Her images take me to places I have never seen and never will. She expands my world through her photos and that, too, is an artful purpose.

This is an untitled acrylic and latex on canvas by Bethlehem Academy senior Tyler Hogate. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In the final gallery, the art of selected students from Bethlehem Academy in Faribault is highlighted. I never fail to be impressed by the talent of these young people. I feel gratitude to their teachers, the PCA and others who support them in their creative pursuits. Now, more than ever, students need the arts as an outlet, a way to express themselves, a way to connect.

This shows a snippet of Ivan Whillock’s “He’s Late,” priced at $6,000. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

And now, more than ever in these unsettled times, we as a community, a state, a country, a world, need the arts.

FYI: The exhibit by artists featured here continues until November 12.

TELL ME: What do you appreciate about the arts?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Appreciating apple orchards in my area of southern Minnesota October 25, 2022

Trumps Orchard on Faribault’s east side. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

I LOVE APPLE SEASON here in Minnesota. Stopping at a local apple orchard for recently-harvested apples or picking my own (especially with the grandkids) gives me joy.

A multi-generational family orchard since 1954 , Trumps Orchard is located along St. Paul Avenue in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

That joy comes in supporting locally-grown, in the experience and in that first bite into a crisp, fresh apple. I love the crunch, the tang, the juiciness. An apple tastes of sun and rain, summer and autumn… so much goodness inside.

A bag of Honeycrisp seconds purchased at Trumps Orchard, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

I live in a state known for developing apples through a breeding program started at the University of Minnesota in 1878. The U has released 28 apple varieties like Haralson (released in 1922), Keepsake (1978), Honeycrisp (1991), Frostbite (2008), SweeTango (2008) and First Kiss (2017). My favorites are Honeycrisp and First Kiss.

Beyond apples, some orchards in my area also offer freshly-pressed cider, apple crisps, apple pies, caramel apples and my must-have, sugary apple cider mini donuts hot out of the grease. Yum.

Pumpkins line a hillside at Trumps Orchard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Many other non-apple goods are also often available such as local honey and maple syrup, pumpkins, squash, fudge, crafts and more.

In my area, Montgomery Orchard crafts hard ciders and wine. Keepsake Cidery, rural Dundas, makes hard cider, too. Both places often feature musicians.

A fun apple photo op at Trumps. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

More and more apple orchards are offering experiences to draw in young families or anyone really who is looking for something to do in the Minnesota countryside on a beautiful autumn day. There are corn mazes and apple tosses, photo ops, wagon rides through the orchard… It’s all about creating experiences and memories.

Tucked into my memory is an apple orchard outing with my eldest daughter and her family and our son-in-law’s family a few weeks back. Our group of 10 aimed for the apple trees, 3-year-old Isaac bumping along in an oversized wagon pulled by his mom under a cloudless sky. A lovely morning with an edge of cool. As the crew gathered apples, I mostly watched, taking in this precious time together—how Isaac thrilled in twisting an apple from its stem. How Isabelle, 6, raced ahead. How our bags filled with apples. How we later shared a bag of apple cider donuts, sugar coating our greasy fingers, as love filled our hearts.

TELL ME: Have you visited an apple orchard this fall? I’d love to hear about your experience.

Apple orchards in my area include: Trumps Orchard, Apple Creek Orchard, Montgomery Orchard, Fireside Orchard and then the cidery, Keepsake Cidery.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A token of friendship & thoughts thereon October 24, 2022

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(Minnesota Prairie Roots edited and copyrighted photo October 2022)

GLINT OF SUNSHINE on metal caught his eye while mowing lawn. Five feet from the stop sign, Randy found the quarter-sized round in the grass. A friendship token with a center butterfly cut-out.

Like a writing prompt, my mind wandered to the story behind the token in our yard. How had it gotten there? When? Why? Plots form. Characters emerge. Tension builds.

I imagine the metal circle tossed by an angry friend. I picture friends—pre-teen or teen girls, simply because the token seems like something that age demographic would value—arguing. Perhaps their disagreement was over a boy or some weighty matter like name-calling or something trivial. No matter the reason, it was enough for one to fling the symbol of friendship onto a stranger’s lawn.

Or perhaps the coin was simply lost, fallen from a pocket. That scenario feels better, even if loss never feels good. I expect the physical reminder of friendship provided comfort and reassurance. Touch the coin when stressed, when missing a friend, when needing a moment of connection to someone who cares about you and loves you.

Friendships, no matter our ages, hold such importance. These are our people—those who get us, support us, encourage us, care about us, hold us dear. I cherish friends, from those who are on the level of just beyond everyday acquaintances to those with whom I can share anything and trust that they will listen, keep confidences and be there for me in joyful as well as challenging times. I reciprocate.


Certainly, friends come and go. The friends I had in grade school through college are mostly now friendships of memory. Memories of jumping rope during recess, dining at Club 59 in Marshall senior year and sitting cross-legged on dorm beds far away from home, our worlds opening wide. These friends will always hold a piece of my heart.

Moves, life changes, circumstances, differences and more change friendships, grow friendships, end friendships. That’s a given in life.

Technology has changed how we connect, form relationships. Through blogging, I’ve grown some close friendships with other bloggers. I never expected this, to first connect online and then develop friendships (think visiting one another, dining together, emailing one another and more). It’s wonderful, this widening of my friends circle. That circle is large, encompassing friends now from New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, even the Netherlands, and other locales, including many places in Minnesota.


Life is hard. There’s no denying that we all face challenges at some point in life. But true friends lighten those struggles by their simple, non-judgmental presence, by their support and encouragement. Family histories, grievances and experiences don’t get in the way. These are our friends. Pure. Simple. They accept and love us as we are, for who we are.

I may not carry a friendship token in my pocket. But I understand its symbolism, its importance. I hope whoever lost or tossed that metal circle into my yard has reclaimed her friendship or realized the friendship was not worth continuing. Sometimes that’s the hard truth, too, that not all individuals should remain our friends. Sometimes the friendship token needs to be tossed into a stranger’s yard, left behind so we can move forward.

TELL ME: How do you define friendship and how has it changed for you through the years?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Before winter settles in…savor these autumn days October 21, 2022

My next door neighbor’s maple tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

IN THE FLEETING DAYS of autumn here in Minnesota, there’s an urgency to get things done before winter. Hurry and rake the leaves. Tune up the snowblower. Wash the windows. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Almost like seeing summer, autumn and winter in the trees viewed from my backyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

But in the haste of all that preparation, there’s also a need to slow down and delight in autumn. Simply stepping outside my home to view the backyard maple and neighbors’ trees fills my soul. I love the contrast of orange, red, yellow against the bold October sky. Sometimes when I look skyward, I see a mix of seasons from green leaves, to autumnal leaves to bare branches.

Sunshine filters through a branch on my backyard maple tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Every single day calls for pausing to appreciate the beautiful natural world of October in southern Minnesota. I know this won’t last and I need to savor these scenes.

The countryside near Nerstrand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Last Saturday morning, instead of pursuing yard work, Randy and I headed on one more drive through the countryside to view the diminishing fall colors. Leaf raking, although started, could wait. As we followed back county paved roads and township gravel roads through open farmland and through woods, I felt embraced and connected to the local landscape and scenes unfolding before me.

Farmer Trail twists through woods of primarily maple. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Sunshine dappled through trees.

To the north across cornfields and treelines, a cloud deck revealed the weather ahead. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

To the north, a cloud deck drew a nearly straight horizontal line across the sky, a hint of the cold weather to come. And it blew in later that day with a raw wind and a drop in temps.

Still some color along Crystal Lake at Cannon City. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Colors were well past their peak in Rice County. Still the occasional oak or maple dropped red or russet into muted tree clusters.

A grain truck holds the corn harvest. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Harvested and unharvested fields of corn and soybeans spread before us. Grain trucks, some brimming with the yield, anchored fields. Former farm kids that we are, we discussed the crops. Always have, always will. It’s something we learned early on, me from Sunday afternoon drives with my parents and siblings to view the crops and during dinner table discussions.

A stately, well-kept barn along Coe Trail northwest of Cannon City. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

We passed farm sites, one with a well-kept signature red barn. There’s something about a barn…

A farm site in the colors of November. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Another farm place was all grey. Grey bin. Grey machine shed. Grey silo. Grey outbuilding. Grey garage. Weathered grey barn.

Driving through autumn on a rural Rice County road last Saturday. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Soon the weather will shift to the grey of November, the month when winter creeps in. Already we’ve felt the bite of unseasonably cold October days that are giving way, this weekend, to unseasonable warmth. These mark bonus days. Days to drive the countryside, visit an orchard, take a hike…days for anything but raking leaves, washing windows or tuning the snowblower.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Fish art along the Mississippi in Monticello October 20, 2022

The Mississippi River in Monticello, MN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

ALMOST ON A DAILY BASIS now I hear and read media reports about the Mississippi River, reportedly at its lowest level in a decade. Lack of rain led to this situation which is now causing shipping problems, concerns about drinking water supplies and issues with salt water creeping into the river.

Fish art along the Mississippi in Monticello. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I need only look at lakes, rivers, streams and creeks in southern Minnesota to see how drought is affecting our waterways. Dry creek beds, exposed rock, clearly low water levels raise my concern.

Arrows on the public art list locations along the Mississippi. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Some 270 miles to the north of Faribault in Itasca State Park, the Mississippi River begins. Like most Minnesotans, I’ve walked across the headwaters. The Mississippi starts as a narrow, knee-deep river that widens and deepens and flows 694 miles through Minnesota. It passes through communities like Bemidji (at its northern-most point), Brainerd, Little Falls, St. Cloud, Minneapolis, Hastings and many towns and cities in between before spilling into Iowa on its 2,350-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.

These lovely homes are next to the park by the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Recently, on a return trip home from a family member’s lake cabin in the Brainerd Lakes area, Randy and I stopped for a picnic lunch at West Bridge Park in Monticello. On the northwest edge of the Twin Cities metro, this community hugs the Mississippi. The park, just off State Highway 25 by the river bridge, is easily accessible, but noisy with the steady drone of traffic.

Community members designed and painted the individual fish for this project. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The creativity in these fish is unique, a reflection of the community. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Another version of funky fish from community creators. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Yet, even if not peaceful, the park is worth visiting. I discovered here a MontiArts Community Project, “The Funky Fish Sign.” Wooden fish cut-outs painted by community members are attached to the trunk of a dead oak as are wooden arrows crafted from old park benches. Those arrows list destinations and river miles from Monticello. To Lake Itasca, 443 river miles. To St. Paul, 43 river miles. To New Orleans, 1,776 river miles.

Public art posted on a dead oak removed from a local cemetery and “replanted” along the Mississippi River bank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This riverside fish tree meets MontiArts’ goal of “using the arts to build community.” This truly was a community project with residents, interns and city employees working together to create public art that connects Monticello to the Mississippi from beginning to end.

I especially like the buffalo plaid on this fish. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

But this is about more than a river and geography. In an online video about the project, I learned that the variety in the painted fish represents the differences in people. We are each unique.

From afar, “The Funky Fish Sign” blends into the riverside landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As individual as we are, though, we are collectively all residents of Earth. We are tasked with caring for natural resources like water, like the mighty Mississippi. This beautiful, scenic, powerful waterway is vital to our economy, vital to our water supply, vital to our leisure, our enjoyment, and, in Monticello, to connecting creativity and community.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Heartache. Hope. Help. October 19, 2022

Sunrise on Horseshoe Lake in the central Minnesota lakes region. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I’M FEELING A BIT INTROSPECTIVE these days. Perhaps it’s the season. Perhaps it’s the state of the world. Perhaps it’s the challenges faced by people I love, people in my circle. I can’t pinpoint a specific reason for feeling this way, only a recognition that my thoughts seem more reflective.

(Book cover credit: Milkweed Editions)

My reading follows that thread. I just finished Graceland, at Last—Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South by Margaret Renkl. A friend recommended this award-winning book published by Minneapolis-based Milkweed Editions. She knew I would appreciate the essays therein which cover topics ranging from politics to social justice to the environment to family, community and more. So much resonated with me, inspired me, focused my thoughts. To read about these issues from a Southern perspective enlightened me.

Yes, this book includes political viewpoints that could anger some readers. Not me. Equally as important, Renkl also writes on everyday topics like the optimism of youth. I especially appreciated her chapter, “These Kids Are Done Waiting for Change.” In that essay on youth activists, she concludes: They are young enough to imagine a better future, to have faith in their own power to change the world for good.

Sam Temple, 21, is running for county commissioner in Rice County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

That quote fits a young candidate running for Third District county commissioner in my county of Rice. Last week I attended an American Association of University Women-sponsored debate between the two candidates, one 21, the other 67. It’s refreshing to see a young person running for public office, someone who cares deeply about his community, about issues, about history, about humanity. He is well-informed, experienced in public service, thoughtful, a good listener, invested, and brings a new, young voice into the public realm. I felt hopeful as I listened to the two candidates answer written questions submitted by the audience. There was no mud-slinging, no awfulness, but rather honest answers from two men who seem decent, kind, respectful and genuine. Those attributes are important as I consider anyone running for public office. Candidates may disagree, and these two do on some issues, but that didn’t give way to personal or political attacks.

Among Faribault’s newest apartment complexes, Straight River Apartments. Many new apartment buildings have been built in the past year with more under construction. Yet, this is not enough to meet demand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

Renkl, in Graceland, writes on pertinent topics of concern to many of us, including those seeking election to public office. In “Demolition Blues,” an essay on housing changes in her neighborhood, she shares how housing has become unaffordable for many who work in the Nashville metro. The same can be said for my southern Minnesota community, where high rental rates and housing prices leave lower income and working class people without affordable housing. That’s linked to a severe shortage of rentals and single family homes.

It would be easy to feel discouraged by real-life issues that flow into our days whether via a book, an election, personal experiences, media… But then I think of those young activists, the young candidate running for office in my county, and I feel hope for the future.

Among the many sympathy cards I received after my mom died. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2022)

I feel hope, also, within. We each possess the capacity to “do something.” That needn’t be complicated as Renkl writes in her essay, “The Gift of Shared Grief.” She reminds readers of the importance of sending handwritten condolences. I understand. My mom died in January and I treasure every single card with handwritten message received. There’s something profoundly powerful and personal about the penned word, about connecting beyond technology. It doesn’t take much effort to buy a greeting card, write a few heartfelt sentences and mail it. Yet, the art of connecting via paper is vanishing. I’d like to see more people sending paper birthday cards again…I miss getting a mailbox filled with cards.

I photographed this message along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, WI., several years ago. To this day, it remains one of my favorite public finds and photos. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

One final essay penned by Renkl, “What It Means to Be #Nashvillestrong,” took me back to that candidate forum last Thursday. When asked to identify the most pressing issue people face locally, the younger candidate replied with “personal issues.” He’s right. No matter what we face jointly as a society (such as inflation), it is personal issues which most challenge us. Author Renkl, referencing a text from a friend, calls those—cancer, death, etc—our “private Katrina.” That in no way minimizes the death and destruction of large-scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina. But we all have something. Her friend texted: One day the sun is shining and all is intact, the next day everything is broken. And the rest of the world goes on. You’re trapped in your own crazy snow globe that’s been shaken so hard all the pieces fly loose.

And when those pieces fly loose in our circle, in our community and beyond, what do we do? We can, writes Renkl, be the hands that help our neighbors dig out.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



Shifting seasons October 18, 2022

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Trees were ablaze at the end of September in Northfield’s Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FRIDAY MORNING BROUGHT the first snow flurries of the season to southern Minnesota. Not enough snow to stick to the ground here in Faribault, but in other parts of the state flakes accumulated.

Seasonal displays drew my eye to this floral shop on a corner in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

We are in the time of transition, shifting from autumn toward winter. One day the sun shines bright on trees still ablaze in color and temps feel comfortable. Other days, grey clouds blanket the sky, blocking the sun, with winter attire needed outdoors.

Inside Used-A-Bit Shoppe, glassware in a seasonal hue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In these waning days of autumn, I am reminded of how much I love this season—for the colors, the mostly moderate temps, the scent, the feel, the gathering in. It’s as if we Minnesotans recognize that every single gloriously sunny day needs to be celebrated, to be photographed in our memories, to be pulled out when winter days draw us in.

Biking across a bridge over the Cannon by Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A few weeks ago I was in neighboring Northfield, about a 20-minute drive away. This art-strong historic college town along the Cannon River presented scenes that hold the essence of the season. From colorful trees to blooming flowers to seasonal displays, the visuals of autumn unfolded before me.

Outside Just Food Co-op. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

People were out and about. Dipping into Just Food Co-op. Shopping at the thrift store. Sitting on a park bench waiting to share a faith message. Walking a dog. Biking across a bridge spanning the river.

Fallen leaves add interest to the Arb creek. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I felt no hurry, only an appreciation for the day, time to meander while waiting for Randy to complete an appointment. Afterwards we headed to Cowling Arboretum for a short walk and an engaging conversation with another hiker. It was one of those chance encounters that left me feeling uplifted, encouraged, blessed.

Coneflowers flourish at Cowling Arboretum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Wild grapes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Wildflowers thrive in the sunshine along the Cannon River at Cowling Arboretum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As I immersed myself in nature on that final day of September, I noticed wildflowers in bloom, leaves floating in the creek, the curve of grapevines, the hint of color in a few trees. If I was to revisit the Arb today, I would surely view a different scene. Each day moves us nearer, oh, so much closer, to winter.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Yes, please, to pie October 17, 2022

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Perkins in Monticello advertised free pie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

PIE. Who loves a good pie? I do.

A few months back while passing through Monticello on the way to a family reunion, I noticed an eye-catching FREE PIE MONDAY sign and cherry pie graphic on the window of Perkins® Restaurant & Bakery. It was enough to make me wish the day was Monday rather than Saturday.

I can’t tell you the last time I dined at Perkins, but it’s probably been decades. I prefer home-grown to chain restaurants.

Yet, the offer of free pie…

As far as I can tell, the 11 am – 9 pm free pie on Monday comes with the purchase of an entree. Reviews of Perkins’ pie point to good pie. I’d need to sample it to offer my opinion. Make that blueberry, please, or French Silk.

Now it’s your turn. If you’ve indulged in Perkins’ pie, how is it? Or where have you found really good pie? What’s your favorite type? This is, after all, pie season.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling