Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Friendships forged via blogging August 3, 2013

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YOU KNOW SOMETIMES how, when you meet someone, you instantly connect and feel as if you’ve been friends forever.

Well, that’s exactly how I feel about my blogger friends Beth Ann, who writes at It’s Just Life, and Gretchen, who writes at A Fine Day for an Epiphany. They are now real life friends, as in I’ve met them.

Beth Ann has been to Faribault twice, first last December with her husband, Chris, to hear me present on and read my poetry during a program at Buckham Memorial Library. Chris always worries about his wife and her “imaginary” blogger friends and whether one of us will stuff her in the trunk of a car. “Not to worry,” I told Beth Ann when she visited me at my home several weeks ago. “I’ll stash you in my basement freezer.”

Now Chris terms me “that Audrey character.”

I don’t know that Gretchen’s husband, Colin, has assigned any such moniker to me. He seems not too concerned about my character.

Driving the state line road to Gretchen and Colin's rural southwest Minnesota home.

Driving the state line road to Gretchen and Colin’s rural southwest Minnesota home.

Last week my husband and I, while en route to Luverne in the extreme southwestern corner of Minnesota, detoured off Interstate 90 into Worthington, wound our way through construction zones and aimed south to the Minnesota/Iowa border where Gretchen and her family live on the state line. Literally. The gravel road past their rural acreage is half in Minnesota, half in Iowa. How cool is that?

I could have chosen to show you a "perfect" family photo in which everyone in Gretchen's family is standing nice and looking at my camera. But I love this one of Ian eyeballing the antics of his little sister, Lucy. Last summer, when visiting me, Colin also held Lucy upside down for a photo and Lucy wanted to do the same again this time.

I could have chosen a “perfect” family photo in which everyone in Gretchen’s family is standing nice and looking at my camera. But I love this one of Ian eyeballing the antics of his little sister, Lucy. Last summer, when visiting us, Colin also held his youngest daughter upside down for a photo and Lucy wanted to do the same pose this time. Given her sweetness, we obliged.

Randy and I were excited to visit our friends as last summer Gretchen, Colin and their three kids accepted a dinner invitation to our home when they were in Faribault for a theatrical performance. We instantly bonded.

Gretchen and me, now real-life friends. Photo by Randy Helbling.

Gretchen and me, now real-life friends. Photo by Randy Helbling.

Who says “Imaginary” blogging friends can’t become “real friends?” Not I, says this blogger.

Sweet little Lucy, who narrated on the nature walk and later read a book to me. She just finished kindergarten.

Sweet little Lucy, who narrated on the nature walk and later read a book to me. She just finished kindergarten. That’s her blanket, appropriately named “Blue.”

Upon our arrival, I refused the handshakes of Colin and Ian, embracing them instead. The girls—Gretchen and daughters Katie and Lucy—were quick with the hugs.

A creek winds through the property.

A creek winds through the acreage. That’s the neighbor’s land in the background.

Then Randy and I were off on a nature walk with the kids through the 10-acre wooded and hilly creek-side property while Gretchen and Colin prepared a delicious meal of grilled pork, lettuce and fruit salads, assorted breads and the best peach dessert ever. (Click here for the recipe.)

Ian, 14, with the family's cat,

Ian, 14, with family cat, Zephyr.

As much as I savored the food, I especially savored the time with our friends, who are warm and welcoming and kind and good and great conversationalists. Even the kids. I mean that in the best sort of way as Ian, Katie and Lucy are so well-mannered and interesting and bright and talented and funny and just the kind of children any parent would be proud to call theirs.

Standing on the state line road with Katie, left, and Lucy.

Standing on the state line road with Katie, left, and Lucy. Rural Minnesota and rural Iowa. Love it. Photo by Gretchen.

When we were about to leave, they all humored me when I insisted on standing in the middle of the state line gravel road for a photo opp, just to say I’d been simultaneously in Minnesota and Iowa, where, by the way, imaginary blogger real life friend Beth Ann lives.

The Welcome to Minnesota sign just down the road from Gretchen and Colin's place.

The “Welcome to Minnesota” sign just down the road from Gretchen and Colin’s place, photographed while driving by.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Meet blogger Gretchen O’Donnell & her family June 10, 2012

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So we’re a bit camera shy…bloggers Gretchen O’Donnell, left, of “A Fine Day For an Epiphany” and “The View From my Window” and Audrey Kletscher Helbling of “Minnesota Prairie Roots.” In other words, of the several frames my husband shot, this is the only one that was in focus and publishable.

MOST OF US have been there—met someone and instantly clicked.

I’ve felt that way about Gretchen O’Donnell of rural Bigelow, whom I “met” last fall. We didn’t actually meet-meet until Saturday when Gretchen and her family rolled into Faribault.

They were in town to attend the musical, A Year with Frog and Toad, in which their friend, Eric Parrish of Worthington, is starring. It was the perfect opportunity for me to meet Gretchen, a talented writer who is among my favorite Minnesota bloggers. She was one of 10 bloggers I profiled in a recent article published in Minnesota Moments magazine.

Gretchen has been blogging for a little more than a year now at “A Fine Day For an Epiphany.” And she also recently began blogging for The Worthington Daily Globe at “The View From my Window.” She is a blogger who writes for the pure joy of writing. And anyone with that type of passion is destined to become a friend of mine.

Read Gretchen’s posts and you can sense her love of language and of storytelling. She writes with honesty and humor about everything from growing up on Orcas Island in Washington to a skunk perfuming the family cat to her attempt at canning tomatoes. She’s also writing a book.

What you read on Gretchen’s blogs are Gretchen in person. She is warm and friendly and engaging and caring and exactly the type of person you would want to call a friend.

The O’Donnell family, clockwise from left, Gretchen, Ian, Colin, Lucy and Katie.

Her family—husband, Colin, and children Ian, Katie and Lucy—are equally as likable. My husband, Randy, and I loved having them for supper on Saturday. Now Gretchen would argue that we dined together for “dinner.” She hasn’t adopted the rural southwestern Minnesota terminology of “supper” for the evening meal.

Nor has this Washingtonian (is that a word, Gretchen?) adapted totally to the flat prairie landscape of southwestern Minnesota where she’s lived for about 15 years. She misses the mountains and trees and ocean. I told Colin on Saturday that I’m working to convince his wife that the prairie possesses its own beauty. She may be coming around.

Let me tell you a little more about the O’Donnell family. They love theatre. I suppose that is obvious since they drove nearly three hours from Bigelow (on the Iowa/Minnesota border) to Faribault for the Saturday evening musical at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Last summer the O’Donnells acted in Beauty and the Beast in Worthington. This August all five are performing in The Music Man.

When I asked for a fun photo, this is what I got. Love it.

I just want to interject here that when the O’Donnells drove to Faribault on Saturday, they did not take the interstate. “That would be boring,” Gretchen said. Precisely the way I think when it comes to travel, Gretchen. Their more back roads route took the family through Mankato where they caught a glimpse of The Blue Angels. Had they traveled the interstate, they would have missed the U.S. Navy precision flying team.

And now, thanks to Ian, eldest of the three O’Donnell children, I am going to try raw asparagus. I know this has nothing to do with planes or theatre, but when the kids were plucking black raspberries from wild bushes in my backyard, we got on the subject of gardening. Ian told me how much he likes raw asparagus. I promised I would try it. (But I never promised this physics-loving boy that I would ever like physics.)

Can you believe these O’Donnell kids even eat horseradish? Yes, I put out a jar of the homemade condiment and they, along with Colin, ate, and enjoyed it. Gretchen passed. She’s tried it once and that was enough. I understand. I feel that way about lutefisk.

Then there’s Katie…she likes reading and science and apparently singing since she has a solo in The Music Man. I asked her about being the middle child and, well, let’s just say she and my middle sister could commiserate over shared middle child experiences.

And finally, there’s little Lucy, darling, sweet, adorable curly-haired Lucy, a five-year-old who chalked a swimming pool onto my driveway, clung to her crocheted blanket (named “Buddy,” not a boy, but a girl blanket) and her mom for all of about five minutes before she felt right at home and who, the last time the family dined at the Rainforest Cafe at the Mall of America, was terrified of the gorillas.

It is details like these that endear me to a family like the O’Donnells. They are real and honest and good people who possess strong family values and a strong faith in God and a strong work ethic. Gretchen and Colin even limit computer time for their kids and, gasp, don’t allow the television set to be switched on on Thursdays. And, yes, their kids are polite and well-behaved and fun and absolutely wonderful.

When we parted on Saturday evening, it seemed as if we’d known the O’Donnells for years rather than for only three hours.

O’Donnell family, you’re welcome back to our home anytime.

FYI: To read Gretchen O’Donnell’s personal blog, “A Fine Day For an Epiphany,” click here.

To read her other blog, “The View From my Window,” click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling