Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This Minnesota mom welcomes her daughter back from Argentina, again March 12, 2013

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WE RETRIEVED HER between bouts of morning and late afternoon snowfall from the parking lot of the Culver’s restaurant in Lakeville, wrapping winter coat arms around her thin frame.

Miranda in Valles Calchaquies, near the town of Cafayate in the Salta province.

Miranda in Valles Calchaquies, near the town of Cafayate in the Salta province.

She, her arms and torso snugged in a borrowed red parka, shivered in the Minnesota winter. Already she missed her beloved Argentina where the summer sun’s rays brushed bronze upon her skin.

As she and her dad lifted her travel-worn suitcase and lavender backpack from the trunk of her sister’s car, shifting them into the trunk of ours, I savored the sweet moment of her homecoming. Nearly four weeks earlier I’d embraced my second-born, tears trailing down my cheeks as she turned away. The scene of her wheeling that suitcase, slipping through the airport doors, remains imprinted upon my memory.

But on this Sunday afternoon, joy defined the minutes, the hour, in which all three of my adult children (it always seems odd to write that contradiction of words, “adult children”) and the boyfriend of the eldest, slid into a corner booth at Culver’s. The restaurant marked a deliberate dining choice by the oldest daughter whose sister once raved about the fast food eatery. Ironically, it’s headquartered in Wisconsin, where the returning traveler now lives.

Unique restaurant architecture in Cafayate, Salta province.

Unique restaurant architecture in Cafayate, Salta province.

I truly cared not where we ate. Rather, I cared that my family surrounded me. With two of my three now living 300 miles away in opposite directions, such togetherness happens only a few times a year. I am not complaining as many more miles, even oceans, separate families.

A tango band performs on the street during a fair in San Telmo barrio of Buenos Aires.

A tango band performs on the street during a fair in San Telmo barrio of Buenos Aires.

But tucked deep into the recesses of my mother’s worries exists the possibility that my second daughter, some day, will return to Argentina. Permanently. Twice she’s lived there, once visited. She’s been mistaken already numerous times as a local, Spanish flowing fluent from her tongue.

While she can claim a knowledge of Spanish as her own, I have passed along this genetic love of language, this appreciation for words and sentence structure and communication.

Riding the cable car in Salta.

Riding the cable car in Salta.

This desire to adventure, though, wells from within her, sourced perhaps from me. I intentionally encouraged her, like her sister before, her brother after, to travel, to see that which I’ve never seen, never will, for I possess not a distant traveler’s heart.

This has been my selfless mother’s gift—this unfurling of the fingers, this revealing of the palm, this opening to flight, this letting go.

Every Thursday afternoon the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo march in front of the central government of Argentina. They are honoring the memories of, by most accounts, 30,000 protesters who disappeared during the "Dirty War" between 1976-1983. The then military/dictorial government, so my daughter tells me, kidnapped

Every Thursday afternoon the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo march in front of the central government of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. They are honoring the memories of, by most accounts, 30,000 protesters who disappeared during the “Dirty War” between 1976-1983. The then military/dictatorial government, so my daughter tells me, kidnapped those who opposed the government and placed them in detention camps. Those detainees “disappeared,” killed in the camps or drugged and dropped from planes into the ocean, she further explains. Why have I not heard of this or why do I not remember this?  The white scarves identify the group and, she says, are embroidered with the names of the mothers’ lost children.

BONUS PHOTOS from Argentina:

Casa del Gobierno (House of Government) in San Miguel de Tucuman.

Casa del Gobierno (House of Government) in San Miguel de Tucuman.

El Mirador (Lookout), Valles Calchaquies, Salta.

El Mirador (Lookout), Valles Calchaquies, Salta.

An open air market in Purmamarca, Jujuy province.

An open air market in Purmamarca, Jujuy province.

A herd of vicunas, Jujuy province.

A herd of vicunas, Jujuy province.

A meat stand at Mercado del Norte (North Market), San Miguel de Tucuman.

A meat stand at Mercado del Norte (North Market), San Miguel de Tucuman.

Valles Calchaquies near Cafayate, Salta province.

Valles Calchaquies near Cafayate, Salta province.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of Miranda Helbling


She’s off to Argentina, again February 15, 2013

On the way to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

On the way to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

SHE’S LEAVING ON A JET PLANE and I know when she’ll be back again…

In reality, she’s already gone, already landed in Buenos Aires, albeit two hours and ten minutes late due to an “aircraft change” in Houston. I’ve gathered that information from the United Airlines website with no way of personally confirming her arrival.

But I can surmise my second daughter is on the ground, on her way via shuttle bus and then a taxi to the hostel where she’s booked several nights.

And I will tell you this: I don’t like any of this—her traveling alone with no real concrete itinerary and no immediate way of instantly connecting across the 6,000 miles that separate us.

She has no personal computer, no cell phone, at the moment.

Approaching the MSP Terminal 1 drop off site.

Approaching the MSP Terminal 1 drop off site.

I should be accustomed to this really, this being her third trip to Argentina. But those first two times she had a home base in Buenos Aires, studying and interning in the capital city.

Back "home" in Faribault, packed and ready to go.

“Home” in Faribault, packed and ready to leave for Argentina.

This time, though, my daughter is vacationing, taking a month away from her job as a Spanish medical interpreter to revisit her beloved South America and the friends she made there. I admire her independence and her fearless spirit. I really do. I have encouraged such qualities in all of my children. But now I am paying the price.

I cannot help myself. I am a mom. Moms worry.

And, if I was not so darned nosy and had not sought out information from my girl, I would have less to concern myself.

But I asked and she told me about the planned lengthy bus ride to Tucuman in northern Argentina. When I questioned the safety of this mode of transportation, she told me about the time her college friend Devon was riding such a bus. Would-be robbers smashed a window, but the bus driver, knowing their intent, sped away.

Then there’s Tucuman, where my girl and her friend, Ivana, were mugged by two guys on a motorcycle, in broad daylight several years ago. Crime has only gotten worse in that city, Ivana says. My daughter won’t be carrying a purse this visit. Just in case, I have copies of her credit and bank cards and her passport.

She’s planning a 16-hour journey on Train to the Clouds, a train that will take her high into the mountains and villages of northwest Argentina. To alleviate my concerns that she will be traveling on some rickety old train, my daughter showed me photos on the train’s website. That reassured me…until she mentioned the medical personnel assigned to each passenger car to deal with health issues related to the high altitude. I suppose that should reassure me. It did not.

And then my eldest had to mention the stray dogs that roam Argentinean streets.

For the next few weeks, I will try to pretend that my daughter is still only 300 miles away in the Midwest. That is my strategy, plus lots of prayer.

My daughter didn't fly Delta. But these are the only planes I saw when leaving Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport after my husband and I dropped her off.

My daughter didn’t fly Delta. But these are the only planes I saw when leaving Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after my husband and I dropped her off.

IF YOU’RE A PARENT of adult kids who love to travel, how do you cope? I could use some tips.

Since writing this post, I received an email and a call from my daughter reporting her safe arrival.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Discovering a beachfront style building in Fargo, of all places August 30, 2012

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AMID ALL THE BUILDINGS—most of them mammoth brick structures—that I observed in a one-block walk-around in downtown Fargo, I never expected this one:

The 8th Street Lofts in downtown Fargo house apartments ranging in size from 465 to 1,445 square feet and renting for $560 – $1,800 a month, according to the Loft website.


The rectangles of tangerine orange bursting in brilliant shades next to monotone gray walls set against the complementary soft blue of a summer afternoon sky caused me to pause, mouth agape.

Would you expect this in Fargo? Maybe along an ocean beachfront in Florida or California. But North Dakota?

That just goes to show that any preconceived notions of what buildings belong where can be proven wrong when you happen upon an architectural anomaly like this structure housing 8th Street Lofts.

Honestly, in the bone-chilling cold of a sub-zero, wind-flogging January morning, wouldn’t this cheery color cause you to smile? It would me.

You’ll find brightly-colored buildings in the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although primarily a tourist destination today, the area is surrounded by houses with painted sheet walls of different colors. Photo by Miranda Helbling.

The jolting orange shades remind me of the multi-colored buildings photographed by my second daughter in the La Boca barrio of Buenos Aires, Argentina. That rough, working class neighborhood along the banks of the Riachuelo River draws tourists to view the colorful houses built by the early Italian immigrants from cast-off ship building materials—planks, sheet metal and such—and then, as legend goes, painted with left-over paint.

I expect when my daughter saw those jolts-of-color buildings, she, too, stopped, mouth agape.

She failed to tell me, though, that the La Boca neighborhood is a rather dangerous place, especially at night. That figures given street criminals are drawn to tourists.

I wouldn’t expect the same in Fargo.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The story behind a travel writer July 22, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:57 AM
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Several months ago I told my daughter I would plug her writing. So I am, in this post. But I’ll also tell you about her as a person, because the person you are shapes the writer you become.

Miranda at the Las Ruinas de Quilmes (Quilmes Ruins) in the Tucuman province of northwestern Argentina.

MY DAUGHTER MIRANDA could work as a full-time professional travel writer. She’s that good. And I’m not just saying this because I’m her mom. You can decide for yourself by clicking here, to examiner.com St. Paul.

Miranda has written some two dozen articles about Argentina, where she traveled twice to study, do mission work and intern. Today she’s back in the U.S., working as a Spanish medical interpreter in eastern Wisconsin.

If she had her druthers—meaning no need for a steady job to repay college loans—Miranda likely would be living in Buenos Aires right now. She loves the city, Argentine culture and food, and Argentineans that much. That shows in her writing.

Yet, even though my daughter isn’t living in the place where she’d probably prefer to be, she’s at least working in a profession that allows her to follow her passion—Spanish. There’s much to be said for that. All too many people go through life working jobs they dislike simply to pay the bills. That is an unfortunate reality.

I understand her love of language. I graduated from high school with a plan to pursue a German degree in college. But I quickly realized that, because I didn’t want to teach, the idea wouldn’t fly. So I followed my other passion—writing. I majored in journalism and minored in English.

I sometimes wonder how things might have been different for me if I had gotten that German degree and had been willing to leave Minnesota. Unlike my fearless daughter, I prefer not to travel. I purposely raised her, though, to love adventure.

From little on, Miranda has been her own person. She ran, not walked, everywhere as a preschooler. One winter, when she was about four, she insisted on wearing a skirt every day. Often she would close herself in the cramped toy room, now my office, and play for hours by herself. She would tell me to “go away.” She was a strong-willed child, still is as an adult, and that serves her well.

For a long stretch, she was fixated on horses. She drew horses, played with toy horses and checked out every horse book she could in the regional library system. She thrilled in riding roller coasters.

When Miranda was diagnosed with scoliosis and had to wear a full torso back brace 24/7 for a year (or maybe two, I’ve forgotten exactly how long) during high school, she drew on her inner strength and determination. She seldom complained, although this couldn’t have been easy.

She is brave and independent and strong. The last time Miranda boarded a plane for Argentina, she didn’t even have a place to permanently stay for the duration of her internship. And when she was mugged in northern Argentina, she handled the situation with maturity and composure that exuded confidence. I was the one back home struggling with the attack.

I tell you all of this because I am proud of my kind, caring, compassionate daughter. As an interpreter, she works in a profession that allows her to directly help others.

As a sometime-travel writer, Miranda continues with an interest that began in high school and continued through her studies at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. Communications Studies compliments her other minor, International Studies, and her major, Spanish.

Already in her Wisconsin home of eight months, my daughter has found a church and embraced a wide circle of friends. Two Hispanic families in her apartment building have “adopted” her, inviting her to family celebrations and dinner and now, she says, Christmas. (Just to clarify, if she’s not on call, I expect her back in Minnesota for that holiday.)

She’s got a good life in Wisconsin. And even though I wish she lived closer than 5 ½ hours away, at least she is not 6,000 miles away in Argentina. For now Miranda seems content to simply write about her previous life in South America, when she’s not too busy with her new life back in the Midwest.

Miranda celebrates the Argentine World Cup soccer victory at Plaza de la Republica in Buenos Aires. The balloon is soccer legend Diego Maradona, at that time the coach of Argentina's national team.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo courtesy of Miranda Helbling


Transitioning through parenthood and letting go June 3, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:14 AM
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In December we helped move my second daughter into an apartment as she started her first post-college job.

ONCE UPON A TIME, like 15 to 20, maybe even seven, years ago, I dreaded my kids graduating from high school, leaving for college and then eventually landing jobs. It would mean they no longer needed me and I could barely stand the thought of their absence.

But since then, since the two oldest followed the path of degrees, jobs and their own apartments, I’ve changed my attitude.

I rather like the lessening of parental responsibility that comes with their independence. It’s freeing. Not that I don’t worry about them; I still do. But it’s different now when they can basically fend for themselves.

My second oldest daughter graduated from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, last spring.

With that frame of mind, I recently visited my second oldest daughter in eastern Wisconsin, where she started work in December as a Spanish medical interpreter. Her first post-college job. Her first apartment of her own. She’d officially grown up.

I would have preferred that she settle closer to her hometown of Faribault instead of 300 miles away. But I’ve reminded myself many times that at least she’s in the U.S., within easy driving distance, and not in Argentina.

Nothing against Argentina. My daughter studied abroad in Buenos Aires and later returned for an internship. But I didn’t want her settling there, 6,000 miles away. I feared she might. Live there. Permanently.

That said, I have only myself to blame for the wanderlust spirits my 23-year-old and 25-year-old daughters possess. Because I grew up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm, I seldom traveled as a child—once to Duluth and once to The Black Hills. I wanted my children to travel. I didn’t want them to be like me—someone who prefers, as my dad would have said, “to see the smoke from the chimney.”

And so I let them go, first as young children, to bible camp. Then, in high school, my eldest took her first out-of-state spring break mission trip to Texas. More mission and church and school trips followed as step by step by step they stretched their travel wings.

Then, during my eldest daughter’s freshman year of college, she signed up for a mission trip that took her to Paraguay. Heck, I had to dig out the globe to locate that country which borders Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia. I panicked, regretting for more than a few days my decision to raise children who enjoyed traveling.

Later, when my daughter journeyed to Costa Rica for a brief study sojourn, I barely gave her trip a second thought.

I could handle those short trips.

But then one summer the eldest worked in West Virginia and she was definitely gone for more than 10 days.

That, thankfully, prepared me for her sister’s decision to study abroad and do mission work in Argentina for six months and then return a second time for an internship.

Through the years, I’ve watched that desire to travel, to see the world, become an integral part of my daughters’ lives. The oldest one, who lives and works in the metro, is always plotting her next adventure.

The daughter who lives in Wisconsin will need to chisel away at her college loans and save some money before she can travel again. Right now she earns barely enough to pay the bills. But the time will come when she can resume traveling.

My oldest daughter and my son.

ALL OF THIS BRINGS ME back full circle to the first paragraph in this post, the one about lamenting my children growing up and leaving home. In a year my 17-year-old graduates from high school. He doesn’t know yet where he’ll attend college—whether close or far away. Life could take him anywhere.

Like his sisters, I won’t hold him back, won’t stop him from pursuing his dreams, from traveling to far away places. I’ve already let him go—to Spain on a Spanish class trip. That wasn’t easy, not easy at all, to allow my boy to journey so far at the age of 16.

But his sisters have blazed the way, have shown me that I can handle this part of parenting and handle it with grace. I’ve raised them all to be strong, independent and fearless individuals.

I’m beginning to enjoy this stage of life, with fewer parental responsibilities and new types of relationships forming with my adult children. I’m confident I’ve done my best as a parent, although best certainly isn’t perfect.

Now it’s time, almost, to move on, to continue supporting and encouraging my 17-year-old son as he transitions into adulthood and to always support my daughters, holding all three of them forever close, yet letting them go.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


As good as chocolate January 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:21 AM
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WHEN MY SECOND ELDEST daughter lived in Argentina, she discovered a sinfully delicious treat that ranks right up there with chocolate.


Yesterday I found a container of this creamy sweet treat tucked in the back of the cupboard. My daughter brought it home from Buenos Aires in October and left it behind when she recently moved to Wisconsin.

Lucky me, because I really, absolutely love…


Dulce de Leche from Argentina

I opened the lid, dipped my spoon into the dulce de leche and savored the thick creamy caramel.


Dulce de leche comes in several styles, including this colonial style. The more expensive artisan style is lighter in color and even thicker. There are many brands on the market.

Then I slathered more onto two scoops of ice cream.


A perfect ice cream topping.

I didn’t even need to add chocolate.

FYI: You can find dulce de leche in the ethnic food section of your local supermarket, although I have not found a brand as tasty as the one my daughter toted home from Argentina.

Or, you can create your own dulce de leche from sweetened condensed milk, which my second eldest learned to make while working in the Concordia Spanish Language Village kitchen near Bemidji. Go online and find a recipe.

Argentines eat dulce de leche on alfajor cookies, pancakes, toast, crackers, ice cream, crepes, tortillas (like biscuits, not “tortillas” as we think of them) and more.

Have you ever eaten dulce de leche? If yes, what do you think? As good as chocolate?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Travel stories from Argentina November 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:28 AM
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Castle at Estancia La Candelaria in Argentina.


AS DIFFERENT AS my second-born and I are—she’s a fearless traveler, I’m not—we share a common passion and talent. We are both writers.

I never purposely led Miranda on this path, although I suspect that my endless reading aloud of books to her as a child instilled a basic love of language.

She chose to pursue writing on her own with me offering encouragement from the sidelines. In high school, she served as co-editor of the student newspaper, never backing down even when challenged by the principal. At the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse, she also wrote, and edited, for the student newspaper.

Last week Miranda began freelancing for examiner.com, St. Paul. She’s a travel writer with the online entity, and a darned good one. She focuses on Argentina, her adopted country, and the place where she’s studied, done mission work and interned. She just returned from Buenos Aires three weeks ago after a 4 ½-month stint there, her second time in that South American capital city.

Since her return to Minnesota, Miranda has been searching for a job that will utilize her Spanish-speaking skills. She has a Spanish degree and wants to work as an interpreter or translator. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that she opted for minors in international studies and communications studies.

While she searches for employment, Miranda is volunteering with a local charitable service center, helping with Spanish interpreting.

She is also staying connected to the Latin America culture via those examiner.com, St. Paul, articles. She’s penned some interesting features about gauchos, a Buenos Aires cemetery, a favorite pancake restaurant and Mafalda, Argentina’s most popular comic strip. But don’t take my word for it. Read for yourself by checking out the travel section of examiner.com, St. Paul.



An Argentine gaucho



Statue at Chacarita Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina



© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling