Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From flowers to cayenne peppers, a birthday celebration October 1, 2021

A beautiful birthday bouquet from my eldest daughter and her family. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I RECENTLY CELEBRATED a milestone birthday and I’ve never been happier to turn another year older. Gone is my absurdly high monthly health insurance premium of $1,245 (with a $4,250 deductible), replaced by affordable (and usable) Medicare coverage. And now I’m also eligible for the Pfizer booster vaccine. Yeah. Here’s to turning sixty-five.

Walking through the prairie at River Bend toward the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I didn’t celebrate my birthday with great fanfare or the usual birthday treat of dining out. (Even though vaccinated, I continue to be cautious and careful in these days of COVID-19.) Rather, Randy and I hiked across the prairie and woods at River Bend Nature Center, a treasured place to connect with nature in Faribault.

Omelet and hashbrowns, along with watermelon from the Faribault Farmers’ Market, comprised my birthday brunch. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Afterwards, I enjoyed a delicious brunch prepared by Randy. We dined al fresco on our patio at a card table draped in one of my many vintage tablecloths.

Then, in the afternoon, we spent time with our eldest daughter, her husband and our precious grandchildren at their home. I appreciated the grilled burger and vegetables with my favorite, cheesecake, for dessert. A wonderful way to celebrate.

The only thing that would have made my birthday even better would have been the presence of our second daughter, her husband and our son. But they called from southeastern Wisconsin and northwestern Indiana and that brought me joy.

Thank you to those who sent cards, this one from my second daughter and her husband. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Some friends and extended family also texted wishes. I got greeting cards, too.

Gladioli from The 3 Glad Girls. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

And flowers. Randy purchased a clutch of gladioli at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. And when he presented them to me with a “Happy birthday!” while I was chatting with Andy Webster of MEG’S Edible Landscapes, Andy took note. “It’s your birthday?” he asked.

“Well, not today, but tomorrow,” I told him.

Smoked cayenne peppers gifted to me by Andy of MEG’S Edible Landscapes. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Then he scooped a baggie of smoked cayenne peppers from the table. “Happy birthday!” Andy said with a smile. Now if that wasn’t the sweetest gesture from a young man who lives on his dream rural acreage in the Sogn Valley, runs his business and is working on a horticulture degree from Oregon University.

Andy’s genuine passion for MEG’S Edible Landscapes showed in his pitch and his personality. He is a genuinely warm and engaging person. To summarize, Andy sells a mobile system for growing vegetables like peppers, basil, beans, lettuce, carrots and more in bags that you can easily pick up and move. It’s ideal, he said, for someone like me without garden space. If enthusiasm and knowledge make for business success, then Andy is certain to succeed.

His unexpected birthday gift of those smoked cayenne peppers touched me in a way that resonated deeply. In these challenging times, I needed that affirmation of an unexpected act of kindness. What a great way to begin my next year of life.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on my mom’s birthday May 24, 2021

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My sweet mom, featured on the Parkview Facebook page in May 2020.

THIS POST CELEBRATES my mom, who turns 80-something today. She likely will never read this. She can’t see well enough to read nor would she likely fully comprehend. But, none-the-less, I feel compelled to honor her with my words.

She’s proven such an inspiration to me. In my writing. In the way I live my life. In who I am. Her name, Arlene, is even part of my identity as her first-born daughter.

I recognize that, as time passes, our memories often skew and we see loved ones through rose-colored glasses. But my view of my mom remains consistent, unchanged. She is the definition of kindness. Of the mindset, “if you don’t have anything good to say about someone, then don’t say it.” Those weren’t just empty words. She followed them and advised us, her six children, to do the same.

The only photo I have of my mom holding me. My dad is holding my brother, Doug.

Mom, as busy as she was with raising three sons and three daughters on the farm, always found time to serve. In church. In the American Legion Auxiliary. At Red Cross blood drives. Wherever she was needed. Her selflessness is admirable.

I sometimes wonder what dreams she gave up. She attended business college in Mankato and worked for awhile before marrying and then settling into her role as farm wife and mother. I know the six of us occasionally tested her patience. I know she worked hard—washing clothes in a Maytag wringer washer, tending a large garden, preserving food, endless cooking and baking…

The old farmhouse to the left, with the “new house” in the background. That’s my sister Lanae standing on the front steps.

And I also know of one particular dream which became reality for my mom in 1967. For years I watched as she paged through house-building plans printed in booklets procured from the local lumberyard. She dreamed of more space for her growing family. Space expanding beyond the 1 ½-story wood-frame farmhouse with three small bedrooms, an oil-burning stove in the middle of the living room, a dirt cellar and no bathroom. Eventually, my parents built a new house and I can only imagine my mom’s relief and gratitude.

It’s not that Mom really cared all that much about material possessions. But having more room and something like an indoor bathroom made life easier. More comfortable.

The birthday cake booklet from which we chose animal cake designs. This copy was gifted to me by a friend.

We didn’t have much growing up. But, because of Mom, we didn’t realize that. On our birthdays, she would craft an animal-shaped cake design chosen from General Foods’ BAKER’S COCONUT ANIMAL CUT-UP CAKE booklet. There were no gifts. Not until I grew older did I understand our poverty. But we didn’t experience poverty in love. Even though this was an era when parents didn’t openly express love in hugs, kisses or words, I felt loved. Cherished. Cared for.

Today, as I reflect on my childhood, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for my mother and how she raised me to value faith and family. To respect others. To speak kindly. To serve.

Arlene’s 1951 Wabasso High School graduation portrait.

I feel grateful to still have her in this world, even as aging and health have changed her. Many times, beginning with a viral infection of the heart nearly 40 years ago, followed by open heart surgery, we wondered if she would make it. Too many times we, her family, were called to her bedside when she was not expected to survive. During uncontrollable bleeding, pneumonia, a fall that broke her neck and landed her in a trauma unit. I recall her comment after one hospital stay. “I guess God wasn’t ready for this stubborn old lady yet.” She was right. There’s a reason Mom is still here, even while wheelchair bound, tethered to oxygen, fading before our eyes.

She is still here to love. To cherish. And, on this her birthday, to honor with words of gratitude.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wish Dorothy a happy 100th birthday December 8, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a pop-up greeting card from my second daughter.

MY DEAR KIND-HEARTED READERS:

In a year that has challenged all of us, uplifting one another holds even greater importance. We each have within us the power to brighten someone’s day through kindness, caring and compassion.

Today I’m asking you to take a moment and send a birthday card to a Faribault woman who is turning 100 years old. I don’t know Dorothy Gallagher’s exact birth date. But Dorothy’s family ran an ad in the Faribault Daily News several days ago asking people to honor her with a card shower. They’re also planning a drive-by parade of vehicles on Saturday, December 12. But my focus is on filling her mailbox with birthday cards.

The display ad states that Dorothy wonders if she can receive 100 cards on her 100th birthday. I bet she can, and I’m counting on you, my dear readers, to help achieve that wish. Consider the joy you will bring to this woman marking a century of life.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

PLEASE MAIL YOUR GREETINGS TO:

Dorothy Gallagher

3741 Cannon Lake Trail

Faribault, MN. 55021

Dorothy’s name sounded familiar to me. So I googled her and learned that she served as Rice County’s treasurer for 11 years until her retirement in 1993. Prior to that, she was the deputy treasurer. Her employment with the county began in 1956.

This I learned, and more, from an article published in 2012 in the Daily News. That story focused on Dorothy’s work as an election judge, a task she began after her retirement, and obviously loved.

I’ve never met this Faribault woman. But I surmise she was a determined and busy woman, even a trailblazer of sorts with a career in county government at a time when not all that many women held such positions. The newspaper article reveals that Dorothy’s first job out of high school in her home state of Illinois was cashiering for Montgomery Ward. Now, if you remember that retail store and/or its catalog, you are, like me, dating yourself. Imagine the changes Dorothy has witnessed during the past 100 years.

With an aptitude for numbers, Dorothy also worked at a Faribault bank. She moved here in the early 1940s. She raised a family of five children and is also a grandmother and great grandmother. What a legacy Dorothy leaves.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of birthday cupcakes gifted to me by a loving niece and her family.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to send Dorothy a birthday card with a handwritten note to celebrate her 100 years of life. I am grateful.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Birthday wishes to my daughter November 16, 2020

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Miranda. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

TODAY MARKS A SPECIAL DAY in my life, as much as it marks a special day for my second-born, Miranda. Today she celebrates her 30-something birthday.

This post celebrates a daughter who is beautiful in every essence of her being. She is strong and loving and compassionate. Those who know her well value her quiet spirit, her resilience, her kindness. She has always been deeply considerate of others, never needing to be the center of attention, a good listener.

Those qualities made Miranda really good at what she did professionally. I write that in past tense because, earlier this year, she lost her job as an independent contract Spanish medical interpreter. That happened in the spring when Madison, Wisconsin, hospitals and clinics closed their doors to elective visits and surgeries due to COVID-19. The need for her services could be handled by in-house interpreters.

Miranda poses in front of the UWL hillside letters at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, on her graduation day in 2010. She earned a degree in Spanish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

After years of interpreting, most in the Fox Valley area of northeastern Wisconsin, Miranda found herself without the job she loved. Interpreting for Spanish-speaking patients was such a good fit for her given her love of language, her calm personality and, most of all, her compassion for helping others. When you’re interpreting for patients and their families in crisis (think automobile accidents, stabbings and other medical emergencies) or getting difficult diagnoses or even at the birth of a child, it takes a special person to remain calm and professional.

Miranda realized immediately after her job loss that she needed to find other employment because it could be months before regular healthcare resumed. Eventually, she landed a job as a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service. Today she continues to deliver mail, working six days a week, sometimes 10-plus hours a day. I admire her positive attitude about this new job despite the long hours, only one day a week off and the political attacks a few months back on the postal service. That’s a lot of negatives.

Yet, as she’s always done, Miranda has risen above the challenges. She is strong. She is hardworking. She is resilient. I love this daughter of mine, this beautiful young woman who has always been here for our family and so many other families. Loving and caring, in her own quiet way.

It is my hope that someday she can return to interpreting. But in these days when hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients and on the cusp of, if not already, shutting down elective surgeries and visits, she needs job security. For now that comes in delivering mail as an essential worker, someone who cares about getting letters and magazines and all those packages delivered.

Miranda, five days old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I remember my daughter’s early delivery, how we scrambled in the early morning hours to find someone to watch her big sister so I could get to the hospital days ahead of a scheduled C-section. Even back then, Miranda had a mind of her own. From the very beginning, she set the timetable for her life in asserting her strength and independence.

Happy birthday, dear Miranda! I love you and I miss you!

© Copyright Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another birthday party missed… April 4, 2020

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My granddaughter, Isabelle (“Izzy” for short). Photographed when she was about 17 hours old in April 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY CELLPHONE PINGED YESTERDAY with a notification. For my granddaughter’s fourth birthday party. Today. At an interactive indoor play area in the northern Twin Cities metro. The party was canceled a few weeks ago, but I’d forgotten to delete the notice from my phone.

So today, instead of celebrating with my darling Isabelle, her parents and little brother, and a whole bunch of Izzy’s friends, I am home. Separated from the ones I love because of the COVID-19 crisis. I have no reason to complain. Everyone in my immediate family is healthy and in the extended family, too, although we had a bit of a scare recently. My mom remains on hospice in a care center 120 miles distant.

We are all making the best of this pandemic which now shapes our lives. We do what we must to stay healthy and to keep others healthy. While out grocery shopping earlier and then on to a Big Box store to buy a garage door because, you know, the garage door just had to break right now, I saw some people with masks. Not a lot. But I noticed more social distancing signs and the larger retail store banning anyone under age 16 from entering. I also saw too many folks not heeding social distancing. I steered clear of them, including employees at one local grocery store which has no COVID-related signs, nothing.

 

Izzy’s first birthday cake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

Yes, I should have been hugging my granddaughter today instead of grocery shopping and buying a garage door. I should have been watching Izzy blow out candles while singing happy birthday to her and celebrating with gift-opening and cake. The year before last, I missed her party because of a blizzard. In retrospect, that is nothing compared to missing a birthday party due to coronavirus.

Isabelle, in a video chat earlier this week, seemed unfazed by the change in plans. She excitedly shared, “I’m celebrating with my family!” She told me about the planned pink birthday cake—her favorite color—frosted and decorated with unicorn sprinkles. I inwardly thanked her parents for stressing to their daughter what she will still have, not what she’s lost in the postponed (until October) party.

 

One of my favorite photos of Isabelle is this one I took of her in September 2019. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I decided to add to Izzy’s celebration by reaching out to friends and family with a request to send birthday cards to my granddaughter. Many responded and for that I am grateful.

This afternoon, while returning home with the $470 garage door strapped to the top of our van, I saw a family celebrating what appeared to be a birthday. A clutch of colorful balloons decorated the front stoop and people stood in the yard. Social distancing. The scene made me think of my sweet Isabelle and how much I miss her. Especially on her birthday. And I wonder just how long it will be until I can hug her again.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dance, smile, toss confetti, spread joy… September 30, 2019

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THE BEST GIFTS cannot be bought. How often have you heard that cliché? It’s true.

We each hold the capacity to give gifts that hold value far beyond anything that can be purchased. For example, when I celebrated my birthday last week, I received several unexpected gifts that brought me profound joy. Joy as in crying and experiencing an overall feeling of being deeply loved.

 

 

 

The first arrived in my mailbox, by all appearances just a birthday card sealed inside an envelope. But when I opened the card, I discovered a clutch of colorful sticky notes. Upon those neon slips of paper, a friend and her family penned powerful words of encouragement and love. Exactly what I needed.

How could I not feel joyful when I’m told I’m loved and that God created me to do amazing things?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

The simple word SMILE, written in an artsy font, prompted a smile.

Now I have that stack of uplifting notes to remind me that Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it’s about dancing in the rain. I needed to read that perspective and my friend knew it.

Then several hours later my dear Aunt Dorothy called from New Jersey to wish me a happy birthday. She’s the aunt who lived in Minneapolis when I was a child and who gave me her old nail polish and lipstick and jewelry and made me feel so loved, especially with her endearing name for me, My Little Princess. All these decades later, Dorothy still calls me that sweet name. Not simply Little Princess. But My Little Princess. I feel so loved.

 

 

And then, just as Randy was preparing to cook dinner on my birthday (because I refuse to cook on my birthday), my niece Tara arrived with her sweet family. She held a box containing six fancy cupcakes from Cream of the Cakes in Lakeville. I never expected this. And that’s the sweetness of this act. This young mom took time out of her busy life to not only buy those delicious cupcakes but then to drive 20 some minutes to deliver them. And bonus, I got wonderful hugs from my great nephew who is, as he told me, three. Not two.

Add to that a bouquet of garden-fresh hydrangea from a friend earlier in the week and flowers from Randy and I feel pretty darned loved. Calls, emails and a video chat with the grandkids brought more birthday joy. The best gifts cannot be bought.

I challenge you this week to reach out to someone who needs the gift of joy—of uplifting words, of a simple act of love and kindness, of a surprise gift. As my friend printed on a sticky note: Be the reason someone smiles today!

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Food stories from Minnesota as I celebrate my birthday September 26, 2019

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Assorted hot dishes, salads, desserts and more fill several tables at the annual Kletscher family reunion held each July at the city park in my hometown of Vesta, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHAT FOODS AND FOOD TRADITIONS do you consider unique to the place you live?

 

Assorted bars. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Ask any Minnesotan and it’s surely not grape salad. Rather, the typical Minnesotan might respond with hot dish, walleye, chicken wild rice soup… Or bars. And we’re not talking the local watering hole here. We’re talking a sweet treat pressed or poured into a 9 x 13-inch cake pan. My favorite are peanut butter oatmeal bars.

 

Chicken Wild Rice Hot Dish with salad and bread served at an eatery in Park Rapids, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Whatever your answer, food in many ways defines us. And food is the subject of a research project underway by a young Minnesota woman working on her Master of Fine Arts nonfiction writing degree from the University of New Hampshire. Lindsey phoned last week to ask about my food history, one rooted in my rural upbringing. We talked for an hour. I don’t envy Lindsey’s eventual task of condensing months of research into a succinct paper. But I do look forward to some day reading her findings.

 

My mother-in-law, who passed away in October 1993, often made Seven Layer Jell-O Salad. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I expect she will include Jell-O, once the queen of Minnesota salads. Make that red Jell-O laced with sliced bananas. It is a signature food of many an extended family gathering from my childhood. Many Baby Boomers from rural Minnesota could probably say the same.

 

A friend gifted me with a copy of the book my mom used to craft birthday cakes.

 

But there’s one story likely unique to me and my five siblings. We grew up on a crop and dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota. With little money, our parents could not afford to give us gifts on our birthdays. The thing is, we didn’t know to expect presents. We were that poor. But Mom found another way to make our birthdays special. Days before our birthday, she would pull out her Animal Cut-Up Cake booklet and allow us to thumb through the pages and choose an animal-shaped birthday cake. Simple two-page spreads showed, for example, how to create a lion from a 9-inch square cake. Mom would follow the instructions in the publication by General Foods Corporation and create the chosen animal cake.

 

The clown cake my mom made for me in one of the few photos I have of myself from my childhood.

 

I cherish those birthday memories. I’m convinced that, had I gotten childhood birthday gifts, I would have forgotten those long ago. But my mom’s homemade birthday cakes, no. Whether a turtle, terrier or teddy bear, those cakes equated love.

 

I can’t take credit for this cake. But my daughters crafted this PEEF cake for their brother the year he turned eight. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When I became a mother, I followed the tradition of creating homemade birthday cakes—like Garfield the cat, a horse, a snowman—for my three kids. But they, unlike me and my siblings, also received birthday gifts.

 

Me with my mom. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

Today I celebrate my birthday. I don’t expect a cake, because who will bake one for me? I’m the mom. Rather I’ll remember and honor my mom, who is on hospice in a care center 2 ½ hours away. I doubt she remembers today is my birthday. I’m simply thankful if she recognizes me. But maybe, if I prompted her, she would recall all those special birthday cakes she baked for me and my siblings. The tradition was a gift of love from the mom I love. And miss.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The excitement of turning three April 11, 2019

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THE EVENING BEFORE HER third birthday, she couldn’t sleep. Up and out of bed multiple times while the California grandparents babysat. Finally Izzy told them she was too excited to sleep.

This does not surprise me. Tell Isabelle something and she thinks it will happen now or soon. The week-long countdown to her birthday party upped the excitement level.

 

A birthday card handmade by one of Izzy’s friends.

 

Randy and I arrived at Izzy’s home shortly after lunch the next day with extra time to visit before heading out to a destination party at an indoor playland. I was not at all surprised to see our granddaughter in her favorite clothes, a white outfit flared with a tutu.

 

 

Ballet themed her party. Isabelle loves ballet. She’s observed professionals at the Landmark Center in St. Paul and at the Mall of America. And she dances ballet at home, at our house…leaping and twirling.

 

Izzy shows her birthday ballerina to Grandpa.

 

Now, thanks to Opa and Oma, she owns a pretty pink ballet dress, matching slippers and a beautiful ballerina doll. I added to the ballet costuming with a layered tutu skirt to wear over leggings or tights.

When the adoring grandparents aren’t around to watch, Izzy holds the attention of her adoring baby brother, Isaac. At three months, he’s watchful of big sister, entertained by her movement.

 

 

At her birthday party, friends and family circled Izzy in love with song and gifts and wishes. Too witness such love for Isabelle, her parents and brother swells my heart with happiness.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating my daughter on her birthday November 16, 2018

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Miranda. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

LOVE HOLDS MEMORIES. So many. And today I remember my second daughter, celebrating her birthday 265 miles distant in south central Wisconsin. I wish I could be with her, embracing her and telling her how much, how deeply, I love her.

But time passes and kids grow up and become adults and move on and celebrate birthdays without us. That is the reality of life. I wonder sometimes why some kids choose to stay in the place of their roots and some choose to leave. Mine left, although one daughter lives only an hour away, for which I am thankful.

Today, on Miranda’s birthday, I remember her entry into the world—on her timeline, not mine. She awakened me in the early morning hours of November 16, days before her scheduled delivery by C-section. She sent Randy and me scrambling to find someone to watch her 21-month-old sister so I could get to the hospital. I shall be forever grateful to my neighbor Cheri.

This launch into life set the tone for Miranda. She is her own person, not one who feels the need to follow the crowd. She has stood strong among bullies and strong through treatment for scoliosis and strong under administration fire as a co-editor of her high school newspaper many years ago. She stood strong through a mugging in Argentina. She stood strong while volunteering with Hurricane Katrina clean-up.

She’s compassionate and kind and loving. Miranda works in a profession that requires compassion. She is a Spanish medical interpreter. From birthing rooms to emergency rooms, she offers a calming presence to patients and their families. I admire her ability to handle whatever situation with professionalism and grace. I could not do what she does. But I appreciate that she is there for people both in moments of joy and in moments of crisis.

Miranda is also a woman of faith, of a gentle spirit. She is quiet, yet bold. Creative.

There’s so much I love about this girl of mine, who really is not mine in the sense of ownership. No one owns anyone. But the bonds of family connect us, hold us close in the infinite love of a mother for her daughter. Today my love overflows as I think of the sweet baby girl I welcomed all those decades ago. On her timeline, not mine.

Happy birthday, Miranda! I love you. Always.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts for my friend on a notable birthday September 12, 2018

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Smile, even when you’re turning sixty. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY FRIEND, I’LL CALL HER JULIE, turns sixty today. I know she’s not particularly excited about that number because, as she says, “It sounds old (compared to 59).”

I remember feeling the same when I reached that landmark birthday. And to think I struggled with turning forty. I wish now that I was only four decades, rather than six-plus decades, old.

But there’s something to be said for this age. And I can summarize that in a single powerful, joyful word: grandma. Julie and I, who have been friends since our kids were in grade school, are both relatively new grandmas. Her grandson is 14 months younger than my almost 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter. We trade stories now about grandchildren and share images of the cute little ones who bring us much happiness.

Julie and I have been through a lot together. Joyful times and difficult times. We listen to one another and trust each other. With anything. What a blessing she has been in my life through rearing children and now into loving grandchildren.

On this her 60th birthday, I want Julie to realize that turning sixty is really not all that bad. Especially when you have a grandchild to spoil and love.

Happy birthday, dear friend! I wish you many more years of joyful living.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling